Category Archives: Eindhoven

STRP, a festival that’s not afraid of the future

It’s easy to be a future-phobic these days. It’s easy to be anxious, dubious, critical about what tomorrow will bring. Unfortunately, it’s less easy to ignore the future and pretend we don’t care. The future is, as we know, already here with its cohort of mass extinction, private armies, state surveillance and climate disasters. But is that all there is to the future?


Entrance of the STRP festival. Design by HeyHeyDeHaas. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for STRP


Quayola, Promenade. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for STRP

This year’s edition of the STRP festival in Eindhoven decided to look at the future with an open, critical and -dare i say- hopeful eye. Their take on the future is not about being naive and resolutely utopian. It’s more subtle than that. It’s about realizing that being stifled by fear is what leaves us in the hands of powerful corporations, far right politicians and other merchants of solutions too rosy and simple to be credible.

As STRP writes in their statement:

We refuse to flee in a crippling nostalgia. We have had enough of the dark and tough flirt with dystopia and ask ourselves out loud: how in heaven’s name can we come through this conservative and fear-driven period together?

This year, the STRP festival looked for inspiration in artistic experiments that evoke the possibility of a more nuanced future. The participating artists never promised to have all the answers but at least they broaden the questions and perspectives.

I’ll come back later with a report on the STRP conference. In the meantime, here’s my quick tour of some of the artworks i particularly enjoyed in the exhibition this year:

Mike Mills, A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone (excerpt), 2014

Mike Mills interviewed about a dozen children of people who work at Silicon Valley. Some of these parents are engineers, others work at a Google cafeteria.

Aged eight to twelve, these children are the ones who will actually be inhabiting the future that the Silicon Valley is selling to us.

First, the filmmaker asks them to speak briefly about themselves. That’s as charming as you might expect. Soon, however, Mills casts the children as futurologists. It turns out that when they are asked about what tomorrow will bring, kids can be quite ambivalent. Some look at the future with bright, enthusiastic eyes. Others are disillusioned. Most present a mix of enthusiasm and pessimism. On the one hand, they embrace technology. They play Minecraft and think that because we have access to so much knowledge, we must be smarter than our ancestors. But their vision of tomorrow can be bleak too: we won’t have trees anymore, we’ll get holographic plants instead; people won’t meet each other physically because the machines will mediate all human interactions, there probably won’t be any animal around either.

The whole film is online.


Hannes Wiedemann, Grinders (A North Star 1.0 implant is being inserted into a person’s arm)


Hannes Wiedemann, Grinders (Amanda is receiving a ‘tragus magnet implant’, Tehachapi, CA)


Hannes Wiedemann, Grinders. Exhibition view at STRP. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer


Hannes Wiedemann, Grinders (Implantation of a ‘tragus magnet implant’ is being performed while others are watching and recording the procedure with their mobile phones. Tehachapi, CA)

Body hackers are decidedly less hesitant about the positive impacts of technology on their life. They call themselves Grinders, implant magnets in their finger to aquire a sixth sense, embed speakers into their ears and attempt to get closer to machines in order to simplify their lives.

Hannes Wiedemann met members of this community and documented some of their operations. Since no licensed surgeon would accept to perform these procedures for them, the hackers have to learn how to do it themselves (or to each others). It’s risky and far more gory than the idealised vision of the transhumanist future that Ray Kurzweil and his friends are presenting us with.

What makes their faith in technology so interesting is the way it challenges the future and ethics of body enhancement.

Quayola, Promenade (excerpt)


Quayola, Promenade. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Quayola uses machines to enhance human perception but his approach is far less intrusive than the one adopted by the Grinders. Promenade follows a drone as it is flying over the forests of the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland. The film explores the logic and aesthetics of autonomous vehicles computer-vision systems. These machines scan natural environments, decode and portray them using parameters and perception tools different from the ones a human would use.

The artist conceived this work as another chapter in the long historic tradition of landscape painting. Just like his artistic predecessors, he (or maybe the machine) uses the landscape as a pretext to discover new aesthetic languages.


Teun Vonk, A Sense of Gravity, 2019. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer


Teun Vonk, A Sense of Gravity, 2019. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer

Teun Vonk wants to make us more aware of the continuous pull of gravity. His immersive installation encloses the visitor (only one at a time) inside a space that challenges their every senses. But it is less about what you feel when you’re suspended in his big soft vessel and more about how you reconnect with your bodily experience once the trip in the floating bubble is over and you’re walking back onto the ‘normal’ space.

The work invites us to reflect on weightlessness and the relevance of human physicality in the future. Will we completely forget about it as our lives become more and more virtual? Will it take another dimension if we ever get to leave this planet and move to some distant celestial body?


Aki Inomata, Why not hand over a ‘shelter’ to hermit crabs?, 2009-ongoing


Aki Inomata, Why not hand over a ‘shelter’ to hermit crabs?, 2009-ongoing. Photo by Juliette Bibasse


Aki Inomata, Why not hand over a ‘shelter’ to hermit crabs?, 2009-ongoing. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Hermit crabs are born with soft, exposed abdomens that leave them vulnerable to predators. They protect their body by squatting empty seashell or hollow pieces of wood they find abandoned on beaches. Increasingly also they adopt the trash that litters our shores. As they grow, they need to move house and find bigger shells.

Aki Inomata creates artificial shells that adapt to the natural shapes of hermit crabs.

Based on CT scans of real hermit crabs’ shells, her 3D-printed habitats feature iconic architectural monuments or even famous cityscapes. The artist then places one of her creations in a tank and waits to see if the small creature will pick up an organic shell or the plastic shelter as its new residency.

The project is delightful and it hints at a future when a new intimacy between the organic and the synthetic will be celebrated (surely we can do better than plastiglomerates and turtles chocking on discarded toys.) However, i wish it showed more compassion to hermits crabs. First, by enclosing them in much bigger tanks. But also by allowing them to enjoy the social life the species is used to.


Katja Heitmann, Laboratorium Motus Mori. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer


Katja Heitmann, Laboratorium Motus Mori. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer


Katja Heitmann, Laboratorium Motus Mori. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer

Over the past few decades, tech companies have quietly been patenting human gestures. Either to prevent competitors from relying on certain physical gestures or to make humans more machine-like.

Choreographer Katja Heitmann has been looking at the other side of this control of our every moves. As technology ‘optimises’ machines and humans and turns them into more ‘efficient’, more compliant tools, could some movements be perceived as superfluous and disappear over time?

Concerned by the possible ‘extinction’ of movements that are part and parcels of our humanity, the artist set up a theatrical laboratory in which she invited the public to donate conscious and unconscious movements. These movements were analysed by dancers and transformed into movement sculptures.

This living exhibition of moribund movements also invited the public to reflect on what makes us humans but might disappear under the pressure of productivity and efficiency.


Merijn Hos in collaboration with Jurriaan Hos, Soft Landing, 2019. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer for STRP


Merijn Hos in collaboration with Jurriaan Hos, Soft Landing, 2019. Photo: Hanneke Wetzer for STRP

Soft Landing is a set of curtains that surrounds your with layers of soft colours as you advance inside the installation towards a large orange ‘sun’. The colour spectrum goes from cold to warm and subtly change in intensity as more people join in. The less visitors are moving inside the space, the more vivid the hues.


HeyHeydeHaas with Désirée Hammen and Pol Tijssen, Exit Through The Flower Shop, 2019. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


HeyHeydeHaas with Désirée Hammen and Pol Tijssen, Exit Through The Flower Shop, 2019. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


HeyHeydeHaas with Désirée Hammen and Pol Tijssen, Exit Through The Flower Shop, 2019. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

To exit the festival, all visitors had to walk through ‘the flower shop’ where they couldn’t buy flowers but they could linger and enjoy their scents, colours and total absence of electronic components. I thought it was a stroke of genius. The flowers almost magically brought visitors back to their basic physical senses and reminded them that some things, like the appreciation of the simple things in life, will never change.


Augmented Reality Tour Billennium with Uninvited Guests & Duncan Spearman. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


Augmented Reality Tour Billennium with Uninvited Guests & Duncan Spearman. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann

The ruminations around the future continued outside of the exhibition space….

Only a few decades ago, Strijp-S (where the STRP festival is located) was an industrial park that belonged to electronics company Philips. The area was nicknamed ‘the forbidden city’. Only Philips employees could enter. In the 1990s Philips gradually left Eindhoven and in the early 2000s, the old factories opened up their doors again. This time to artists workshops, design shops and offices for the creative sectors. Uninvited Guests & Duncan Spearman took visitors on a time-traveling guided tour of the Strijp-S area.

The narrative starts with the arrival of Philips in the area, then quickly moves the current hip and design identity of the area. Soon, past and present are discarded and we were invited to move around the area and see the future of Strijp-S.

The “archaeologists of the future” who guided the tour gave us a smartphone and a selfie stick to raise towards the built environment. After a few seconds to allow the AR technology to adjust, future architectures and activities appeared on the screen. We could see and hear the world of Strijp in 2030 and later we could also experience the area in 2090. 2030 was innocent enough. All organic food on balconies, energy-saving public lights, etc. 2090 was downright dystopian and riotous.

The last chapter of the tour was an invitation to imagine and design Strijp’s future. I found myself in the group with the wildest imagination: a volcano would fill the main square in 2060, it would spit cooked sushi for roaming dinosaurs (de-extinct thanks to the wonders of biotech) to feast on. As we were fantasizing about this wild future, it started appearing on our screens. A visual artist was listening to our conversations and drawing our speculations from a nearby office and then streaming it to our devices.

Augmented Reality Tour Billennium managed to materialize a reality that isn’t here yet. It also turned out to be a very entertaining and smart way to engage participants in lively debates about their local context and how it will be affected by the passing of time.

More works and images from the exhibition:


Lauren McCarthy, Waking Agents, 2019. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer


Lauren McCarthy, Waking Agents, 2019. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer


Yann Deval & Marie G. Losseau, Atlas. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


Yann Deval & Marie G. Losseau, Atlas. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann


Yann Deval & Marie G. Losseau, Atlas. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The STRP exhibition was curated by Gieske Bienert, Juliette Bibasse and Ton van Gool. The next edition of the festival will take place in Eindhoven on 2 to 5 April 2020. But the next Scenario # 3 is already planned for 6 June 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Reporters without Borders, Uncensored Playlist, 2018

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

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


Lilian Stolk, Emoji Newsfeed, 2018


Lilian Stolk, Emoji Newsfeed, 2018


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Forensic Architecture, al-Jinah Mosque

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Donghwan Kam, After Photography, 2018


Donghwan Kam, After Photography, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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



More images from the exhibition:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Image on the homepage: Donghwan Kam, After Photography.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy

In April 2017, Baltan Laboratories organized Economia: a festival about the economy without the economists. I wrote about it extensively and enthusiastically. During 3 days, at Baltan Lab in Eindhoven, artists, philosophers, writers, historians, film makers and even a professor of geology demystified the economy and shared their thoughts on how we can work together to shape new economic realities.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy, a booklet edited by curators Olga Mink & Wiepko Oosterhuis, contains essays and images that builds upon some of the ideas and lines of inquiry explored during the festival’s many debates, keynotes and performances.

The texts in the publication are articulated around 3 main threads:

The first one, Economy as a Playful Construct, looks at economy through an artistic lens. I particularly enjoyed reading Brett Scott encouraging us to uncover and subvert ingrained (but not immutable) power dynamics of the financial sector. Lenara Verle wrote a very brief text to present The Currency Lab game, a board game that invites you to become currency designers. You can print and play it using any black & white or color printer. Her essay also mentions a nifty little companion booklet for the game that contains examples of contemporary and historical alternative currencies.


Lenara Verle, The Currency Lab game

Daniel de Bruin, Moniac (Monetary National Income Analogue Computer), 2017

The second section, Economy as a Biological Construct, is the most fascinating one. UBERMORGEN draws parallels between bitcoin mining and the production of red blood cells in the human body. Geologist Geerat Vermeij wrote a wonderful essay on the need to cultivate a healthy economy based, not on continued growth, but on a symbiosis with the common good of humanity and the rest of life on our planet.

The last group of texts, Economy as a Social Construct, has social relationships and individual impacts at its core. The two texts i’ll highlight here are by Josef Bares and by Nick McHuigan. Bares uses his work Consumption. Hong Kong. Volume I to question the efficacy of dollar voting. McHuigan, founder of the Accountability Institute, investigates the role that accounting metaphors are playing in society and calls for a language that would reflect a more holistic vision of reality and take into consideration the effects economy is having on environment and society.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy features many more artists, thinkers and scientists contributions. You can order a copy by visiting this page. I wish there was also an option to download the booklet as a PDF as it would probably mean that more people get to read it. Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy won’t revolutionize the economy by itself but by proposing alternative point of views and reasoning, it certainly provides readers with food for thoughts and a desire to start conversations that go far beyond the usual rant about capitalism and why it sucks.

I’ll leave you with two videos from the festival. One of Frank Trentmann explaining how comsumption came to play such a central role in society. That was my favourite keynote from the Economia Festival:

Frank Trentmann, A world of consumers

And here’s my favourite artist talk: Jennifer Lyn Morone, ‘the girl who turned herself into a corporation’.

Jennifer Lyn Morone, Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc. Artist talk at Economia

Previously: Economia, a festival on economy without the economists, Economia Festival. Consumerism, crabs, automation, and other insights by non-economists and Economia festival: short films about finance.
Image on the homepage: Jennifer Lyn Morone, Inc, via.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy

In April 2017, Baltan Laboratories organized Economia: a festival about the economy without the economists. I wrote about it extensively and enthusiastically. During 3 days, at Baltan Lab in Eindhoven, artists, philosophers, writers, historians, film makers and even a professor of geology demystified the economy and shared their thoughts on how we can work together to shape new economic realities.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy, a booklet edited by curators Olga Mink & Wiepko Oosterhuis, contains essays and images that builds upon some of the ideas and lines of inquiry explored during the festival’s many debates, keynotes and performances.

The texts in the publication are articulated around 3 main threads:

The first one, Economy as a Playful Construct, looks at economy through an artistic lens. I particularly enjoyed reading Brett Scott encouraging us to uncover and subvert ingrained (but not immutable) power dynamics of the financial sector. Lenara Verle wrote a very brief text to present The Currency Lab game, a board game that invites you to become currency designers. You can print and play it using any black & white or color printer. Her essay also mentions a nifty little companion booklet for the game that contains examples of contemporary and historical alternative currencies.


Lenara Verle, The Currency Lab game

Daniel de Bruin, Moniac (Monetary National Income Analogue Computer), 2017

The second section, Economy as a Biological Construct, is the most fascinating one. UBERMORGEN draws parallels between bitcoin mining and the production of red blood cells in the human body. Geologist Geerat Vermeij wrote a wonderful essay on the need to cultivate a healthy economy based, not on continued growth, but on a symbiosis with the common good of humanity and the rest of life on our planet.

The last group of texts, Economy as a Social Construct, has social relationships and individual impacts at its core. The two texts i’ll highlight here are by Josef Bares and by Nick McHuigan. Bares uses his work Consumption. Hong Kong. Volume I to question the efficacy of dollar voting. McHuigan, founder of the Accountability Institute, investigates the role that accounting metaphors are playing in society and calls for a language that would reflect a more holistic vision of reality and take into consideration the effects economy is having on environment and society.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy features many more artists, thinkers and scientists contributions. You can order a copy by visiting this page. I wish there was also an option to download the booklet as a PDF as it would probably mean that more people get to read it. Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy won’t revolutionize the economy by itself but by proposing alternative point of views and reasoning, it certainly provides readers with food for thoughts and a desire to start conversations that go far beyond the usual rant about capitalism and why it sucks.

I’ll leave you with two videos from the festival. One of Frank Trentmann explaining how comsumption came to play such a central role in society. That was my favourite keynote from the Economia Festival:

Frank Trentmann, A world of consumers

And here’s my favourite artist talk: Jennifer Lyn Morone, ‘the girl who turned herself into a corporation’.

Jennifer Lyn Morone, Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc. Artist talk at Economia

Previously: Economia, a festival on economy without the economists, Economia Festival. Consumerism, crabs, automation, and other insights by non-economists and Economia festival: short films about finance.
Image on the homepage: Jennifer Lyn Morone, Inc, via.

Economia Festival. Consumerism, crabs, automation, and other insights by non-economists


Keith Yahrling, Home Depot, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2007


Evgeny Morozov with Olga Mink. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories

Another quick look back at the Economia festival that took place at Baltan Laboratories in Eindhoven a few weeks ago…

As i mentioned earlier, the event’s rallying cry was that time had come to discuss the economy without inviting the economists to the table. The festival performances, screenings, artworks and talks did indeed bring a radically new perspective on the economical challenges that society has been facing over the last decade. The keynotes were particularly unexpected and enlightening. The ever eloquent and provocative Evgeny Morozov walked us through the signs of the formidable march of the tech giants towards political control and economic monopoly. Pankaj Mishra explored the Age of Anger and his talk was, imho, far less incisive than his book. The videos of their keynotes are online but i’m going to put the spotlight on the other two talks: Frank Trentmann‘s chronicle of the consumerist society and Geerat Vermeij‘s theory about how a closer study of biological ecosystems can teach us more about the mechanisms and trends of the economy than we might suspect.


Frank Trentmann. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories


Frank Trentmann. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories

Frank Trentmann: A world of consumers. Keynote lecture at the Economia Festival

Historian Dr. Frank Trentmann drew upon his book Empire of Things to narrate the history of consumption and the many impulses that drive our ‘material self’. It was a fascinating and instructive talk. I learnt that consumption didn’t start in the 1950s in the US but long before that, in Europe and in the China of the Ming dynasty. And that the biggest boom in consumption took place in the 1950s and 1960s when society was becoming more equal and the states started to dedicate more resources to the well-being of their citizens. I was reminded that women, at a time when they were not allowed to vote, turned their purchasing power into civic power, feeling that they had a social duty towards the underpaid workers who were producing the goods. Whether you agree with his views or not, you might find Trentmann’s concluding remarks thought-provoking, especially when he explains why he doesn’t believe that we’ve reached peak stuff, and why the drive for ‘experiences‘ is nothing new and won’t slow down our shopping frenzy.


Geerat Vermeij. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories


Geerat Vermeij: The economy of nature. Keynote lecture at the Economia Festival

Geerat Vermeij is an evolutionary biologist. Eleven years ago, he wrote Nature: An Economic History, a book which explores how processes common to all economic systems–competition, cooperation, adaptation, and feedback–govern evolution as surely as they do the human economy, and how historical patterns in both human and nonhuman evolution follow from this principle.

Throughout his talk, the scientist highlighted strong parallels between biological evolution and economics in the human realm in order to try and answer a rather vital questions: Can we construct a healthy economy that doesn’t grow?


Pankaj Mishra. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories


Evgeny Morozov. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories


Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel for Baltan Laboratories

The Economia festival was curated by Wiepko Oosterhuis and organised by Baltan Labs in Eindhoven.

Previously: Economia, a festival on economy without the economists and Economia festival: short films about finance.

Economia festival: short films about finance


Nathaniel Sullivan, Before the Nation Went Bankrupt (still), 2016


Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

On Monday, i took you on a quick walk through the exhibition of the Economia festival in Eindhoven. Today I’m going to share a few short films, animations and documentaries i discovered over the 3 days i spent there. The screenings exposed the world of finance under the most human perspectives: from the bank robbery that goes terribly wrong to an economic system so complex they become incomprehensible for humans, from the bankers trying in vain to avoid massive troubles to people forming endless queues in order to receive free soup and bread, etc.

There were some real gems in the film program put up by Baltan Laboratories and the invited curators but i’m going to tell you only about the ones you can watch online for free:

David Borenstein, Rent a Foreigner in China

While he was in China studying urbanization and real estate speculation, David Borenstein discovered the existence of ‘foreigner agencies’ that hire European, Indian, African and American expats to help real estate developers market their new developments and turn remote ghost towns into ‘globalized cities’ on the days that investors and potential buyers visit. All the foreigners have to do is pose as investors, buyers, or ‘superstars’. Borenstein calls these jobs ‘white monkey gigs’. The festival screened the feature length documentary, called Dream Empire, but Borenstein also did a short film for the new york times that sums up the phenomenon and that’s the one you can watch above.

Jorge Furtado, Ilha das Flores (Isle of Flowers), 1989

Isle of Flowers is an amazing Brazilian pseudo-documentary short film by Jorge Furtado. The 1989 film follows the path of a tomato from the field to the supermarket to a perfume saleswoman’s kitchen to a landfill outside of the city.

Each stage in the journey of the tomato requires the exchange of money. Until it is judged unfit for consumption by the woman, thrown in the garbage, and unloaded in a landfill. There, it becomes part of the organic material selected by farmers to be given to pigs as food. The rest, which is considered inadequate for the pigs, is given to poor children and women to collect and eat.

The film talks with humor about the absurdity of consumerism and about our indifference to the suffering of other human beings.

Bela Tarr, Prologue, 2004

Prologue is part of “Visions of Europe”, a 25-film anthology made by film directors from the European Union. Prologue is Hungarian film director Béla Tarr’s sharp and remarkably poignant view of Europe.

Scott Massey, One Thousand Four Hundred and Ninety Two Fifty Two, 2011

In One thousand four hundred and ninety two fifty two, Scott Massey attempts to convince a bank employee to pay off his overdraft using the words, ‘one thousand four hundred and ninety two fifty two’ as payment. He recorded the dialogue with a hidden microphone.

Konrad Kästner, Cathedrals, 2013

The city of Kangbashi is one of the most famous ‘ghost cities’ of China. The images of empty streets and light shows that no one sees are accompanied by a voice-over telling the modern fable about a cathedral built of money.

Yorgos Zois, Casus Belli, 2010

As film director Yorgos Zois writes: People standing in line; all in order. Everyone is starving for something: products, entertainment, religion, art, money. But in the last queue they are all starving for… food. It’s the queue of personal survival. If the food ends, then disorder begins. And if one man falls, we all fall down.

Nathaniel Sullivan, Before the Nation Went Bankrupt, 2016

Before the Nation Went Bankrupt tells the story of the financial crisis through the fictional love letters that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wrote to his wife, daughter, mistress 1, mistress 2, etc. He writes these messages as the financial crisis is about to change the world. More precisely, during the weekend he spent at the Federal Reserve, in Manhattan, summoned along with the CEOs of the biggest banks to save the world economy from ruin. Or rather to save themselves from ruin.

Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self (Part 1: “Happiness Machines”), broadcast on 29th April 2002

The Century of the Self is a 2002 tv documentary series by Adam Curtis. Episode one, Happiness Machines, exposes how Sigmund Freud’s theories were used by PR gurus and politicians to manipulate the masses. The central figure in the film is Edward Bernays, a pioneer in the public relations profession who showed American politicians and corporations how, by satisfying the inner irrational desires that Freud had identified, the masses could be made happy, gullible and docile.

Francois Alaux, Hervé de Crécy & Ludovic Houplain, Logorama, 2009

Logorama is a clever action-packed film told entirely through the use of more than 2,500 brand logos and mascots. Ronald McDonald is the villain, Michelin Men play the cops, the Green Giant is in charge of security at the zoo, etc.

Santiago Bou Grasso, El Empleo (The Employment), 2008

This short animation film by Santiago Grasso received 105 awards. It’s quite good but not 105 awards good, imho. Maybe the jurors were surprised by the ending (i saw it coming way before the guy left his house and i’m not even that clever at guessing the end of books.)

That’s it for today! More about the festival soon!

Previously: Economia, a festival on economy without the economists.

Economia, a festival on economy without the economists


Zachary Formwalt, the Three Exchanges trilogy. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

A couple of weeks ago, Baltan Laboratories invited artists, philosophers, scientists, film makers and members of the public to join the Economia festival in Eindhoven. The only thing the participants had in common is that none of them would have described himself or herself as an economist. That and the fact that they had plenty of provocative and thought-provoking ideas to share about the economy. Unsurprisingly, our current economic system took quite a beating over the course of the various keynotes, (on/off stage) debates and documentary screenings. The Economia festival, however, went beyond the critiques (we’ve heard them all before anyway!) and suggested new challenges and alternatives, new perspectives and hypotheses.

As curators Wiepko Oosterhuis and Olga Mink wrote: Why not start by treating economics like any other technology? Play with it, hack it, use input from other disciplines, unleash science fiction on it, approach it in an artistic manner. In short, take ownership so that we can reshape and rework economics as we see fit.

I’ve still got a lot to unpack, think and write about so expect more stories in the coming days. For now, let’s have a quick walk around some of the artworks and design ideas i discovered at Economia:


Blake Fall-Conroy, Minimum Wage Machine, 2008-2010. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Blake Fall-Conroy, Minimum Wage Machine, 2008-2010. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

Perhaps the easiest to engage with, the Minimum Wage Machine allowed visitors to get a tangible, physical understanding of what it means to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank yielded a one cent euro coin every 4.018 seconds, that’s €8.96 an hour, the minimum wage in The Netherlands right now. The coins dropped as long as you turned the crank. I saw many people trying it. All of them stopped after the first few cents. You want to have a go because it’s a fun and straightforward installation but you quickly realize how depressing and mind-numbing routine work is.

In an interview with 1215 today, Blake Fall-Conroy discussed the irony of being repeatedly asked by galleries to exhibit his work for free.

UBERMORGEN, Red Coin (Chinese Blood), 2015

Red Coin mining has made the People’s Republic of China the world’s largest Bitcoin producer. However, mining the cryptocurrency requires a lot of energy to power the hardware and to keep it cool. The first mining farms were built in Shanxi and Inner Mongolia where coal energy was cheap, but never as cheap as free water so most of the farms have now migrated towards the west of the country where China has been building hydropower plants.

“Both red blood cells and mining hardware consist of units that have a profitable life-span of about 4 months, they use vast amounts of energy, transport oxygen and as a result create, maintain and enable life in its various forms without maintaining any form of recognizable self-consciousness…”

The video was shot in a Chinese Bitcoin mine that spans six sites which, when the video was shot in 2014, held down roughly 3% of the network’s total hashing power.


Zachary Formwalt, In Light of the Arc, 2013. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Zachary Formwalt, In Light of the Arc (video still), 2013


Zachary Formwalt, In Light of the Arc (video still), 2013

Zachary Formwalt’s video diptych In Light of the Arc, part of the installation Three Exchanges, is shot in China too but it takes us inside Shenzhen’s stock exchange when it was still under construction. Just like Red Coin, this video depicts a reality that is populated, powered and governed more by machines than by men. It is a world characterized by an increasing abstraction, by powerful activities that take place beyond the threshold of our human perception.

But while mining sites are often located in remote and sometimes even secret locations, the financial system needs its material infrastructure to be visible. The building of the Shenzhen’s stock exchange was designed by Rem Koolhaas and his firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture. The facade is your typical stern and futuristic skyscraper. The inside of the building reflects how much advanced algorithms have taken over the world of finance: the trading floor itself, with its iconic bronze bell, now serves only a ceremonial purpose.


RYBN, ADM XI. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


RYBN, ADM XI

The work ADM XI further illustrates the de-materialization and abstruse logic that reign over the financial world. This collection of highly irrational trading algorithms was created by 10 artists to compete with each other in a marketplace provided by RYBN.ORG. The artistic trading algorithms hosted on the platform follow their own non mercantile logic: some attempt to produce an irreversible chaos, others try to influence the market prices to make it look like a geometrical shape, while others attempt to saturate the market with non human affects. Profits are no longer driven by the usual economic instruments, but rather, by living organisms – soil, plants, bacteria; by supraterrestrial rules – environmental, astronomical, astrological; or by non-scientific knowledge – esoterism, magic, geomancy, etc.
(i wrote about the project a few months ago.)


Andrés Costa, Notes on a Suicide. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Andrés Costa, Notes on a Suicide. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

A small car inside a glass box. The vehicle accelerator is linked to real-time fluctuations of the international oil market. Depending on the movements of prices, the car will speed up or slow down emitting carbon dioxide accordingly, possibly creating an environment too toxic for the vehicle itself.

Notes on a Suicide lays bare the domineering position of data in nowadays’ society as well as its relationship with the key players in the economic field: technology and oil.

See it in action!


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel


Mark van der Net and Wiepko Oosterhuis, EGONOMIA, 2017. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

One of the most entertaining moments for me was when i got to play with the festival’s temporary local currency. Because the system is based on your own values and beliefs, you first had to fill in an online questionnaire about the importance that concepts such as knowledge, beauty, network or creativity have for you. After that, the system prints your personal money to spend all over the festival venue. You could buy drinks for friends, get chocolate at the bar, vote, gamble it, etc.

But because EGONOMIA was a social experiment rather than just one of those pop-up local currencies, you soon found yourself defied by the difference between your initial, admirable values and the very prosaic transactions you make in real life. The discrepancies between the former and the latter might explain why having the best intentions and the most laudable ideals will not necessarily translate into a fairer society.

I ended up gambling most of my money (which was a complete surprise to me) and exchanging the rest for chocolate (now, that’s pretty normal.) I may also have ‘borrowed’ some of the banknotes i saw abandoned on the printer. I scanned them in the gambling machine and lost every single time. Ill got, ill spent…


Monique Grimord, TerraEconomics. Photo by Diewke van den Heuvel

With TerraEconomics, Monique Grimord asks us to ponder on the following questions: What if the stock was not determined by supply and demand, but by health of the earth and resource extraction? Her installation envisions a possible future when the value of goods are no longer dictated by the invisible forces of supply and demand, but are governed instead by the flux of the natural environment, the Earth’s A.I. In her scenario, the countries that pioneered this unique system called it terra-economics.

Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc

Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc is the girl who became a corporation. I wrote about her work back in 2014 already and i’ll spend more time in a coming story exploring how her project has evolved since i last saw her. In the meantime, if ever you have the good fortune to find yourself in or around Ljubljana, don’t miss her upcoming solo show at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art.

The Economia festival was organized by Baltan Laboratories in Natlab, the former physics lab of Philips, in Eindhoven (NL) on 28, 29 and 30 April 2017.

For more photos of the festival, check out Baltan laboratories flickr set. There’s mine too but i still haven’t improved my photo skills one bit after all these years.

8 things i’ve learnt during the last edition of the STRP biennale


Conference for the Curious. Photo © Blickfänger


Steve Maher, Heavy Metal Detector. Photo: © Boudewijn Bollmann


Outside the historic Philips Klokgebouw where the biennale unfolds

A few weeks ago, i visited STRP Biënnale, the mega festival of art, technology and music in Eindhoven. The theme of the event this year was Senses & Sensors. Both the huge exhibition and the two-day event of talks and discussions called Conference for the Curious explored perception in all its guises and meanings. Some of the questions raised during the festival included: How can technologies hinder or expand our senses? Can the same technologies enable us to develop new senses? What role do technological sensors play in our perception of the world? But also, and perhaps more interestingly, how can we make more sense of technology?

As usual, there was a lot to take in, discover and ponder about at STRP. I’m just going to highlight the most interesting ideas and works i discovered while i was there:

1. We will soon miss the computer accent


popstar Claire L.Evans, The Sound of Post-human Music at STRP conference

Writer and popstar Claire L.Evans opened the conference with The Sound of Post-human Music, a talk which focused on the role that artificial intelligence will soon play in the composition—and appreciation—of music and art. She believes that “artificial intelligence could be like the electric guitar for future musicians.”

The talk was full of witty comments and nods to science fiction. The most memorable moment for me was when Evans talked about the computer accent. We see it as a failure, a flaw, but soon we won’t be able to distinguish it anymore from human speech and we will miss it (check out this story recently published: Chatbots Have Entered the Uncanny Valley.) And do we really need to use only humans as a benchmark for success anyway? Evans doubts it. Besides, she believes that A.I.’s own sense of beauty will eventually surprise us.

There’s more details in the feature she wrote for Motherboard: The Sound of (Posthuman) Music.

2. Dries Depoorter has one genius idea every hour


Dries Depoorter at STRP conference. Photo: © Blickfänger


Dries Depoorter, Flipside Audio , exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Roos Pierson

Some of them he actually turns into artworks.

He gave a really fun talk at Conference for the Curious. It took the form of a brief overview of his portfolio. That’s when i learnt that his work Tinder In had been shamelessly copied by a famous multinational electronics company. They used his idea in an advertisement campaign, got a 10,000 dollar prize for it and obviously never credited the artist for the original idea. He sent them an invoice of 10,000 dollars. They didn’t find it amusing.

Depoorter is now working on a couple of new projects. One of them is a dating website where you do not have to fill in any formulaire. The system will find your ‘perfect’ match according to your browsing internet history.

The artist was showing a new work on the turf outside the Philips Klokgebouw. Flipside Audio allows visitors to connect a headset directly into the grass and listen in real time to the other side of the world, 13,000 kilometers below you.

3. Segregation, tolerance and other social issues have their own smell


Sissel Tolaas at STRP conference. Photo: © Blickfänger

Artist and smell expert Sissel Tolaas told us how our world has been cleaned up, sanitized and perfumed to the point that we ignore precious information about what surrounds us. A few years ago, she decided that she wanted to record her own life through the smells she encountered. She has since been collecting, recording, putting inside little cans and labeling the smells she wishes to remember.

One of her projects consists in mapping the smells found in various cities around the world. She takes inhabitants on smell walks and invites them to explore the ‘smellscapes’ of neighbourhoods where they might otherwise never go. As a result, the participants start to develop a new, more open understanding of the people who live there. Tolaas believes that smells can tell you a lot about income differences, respect for the environment, level of social engagement, etc.

Her work has so much meaning and power that the US military approached her after having heard of her project FEAR 01/21. For this work, she synthesised the smell of fear from 21 sufferers of panic attacks. The U.S. army thought that her project would be the starting point for the development of new methodologies that would enable them to “smell a terrorist and other totally naïve notions.” She turned down the offer.

4. Speaking of smells… data leaks should be given smells, just like dangerous gases


Leanne Wijnsma, The smell of data, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Willy Kerkhof


Leanne Wijnsma, The smell of data. Photo: © Ruud Balk

Leanne Wijnsma, The smell of data

Contemporary society under-appreciates what human sense of smell can do for us. It helped our ancestors survive, just like it helps other animals navigate the environment and detect incoming danger. Designer Leanne Wijnsma‘s research project The smell of data looks at how a simple device we’d leave next to our computer could emit scent and vapour and warn us of any leak or other threat to data security on the internet.

Wijnsma was one of the winners of the new STRP – Creative Technology Award (ACT) which supports creative thinkers and makers with vision and imagination.

5. Mug is the new tote


My very own Conference for the Curious mug

We got to keep the mug we were using during the STRP conference coffee pauses. Brilliant idea! First, because we refilled our mugs instead of going through several paper or plastic cups during the day. Second, because who needs another festival tote? Please conference/festivals, take note and steal the idea!

6. Sometimes the opening act is more exciting than the ‘headliner’


Koert van Mensvoort at Conference for the Curious


Satellite map of North Korea at night

Koert van Mensvoort from Next Nature introduced keynote speaker Kevin Kelly and managed to say more interesting things in 10 minutes than the American tech guru in one hour. Kelly is a true visionary, i share his admiration for the lettuce bot and i’m sure his book The Inevitable is great but i don’t buy his ‘tech is fab and AI will make the world a better place’ promises. Maybe this is going to be true for the Silicon Valley clique but I don’t think everyone will benefit equally from a future in which we (or at least some of us) will cheerfully work in unison with machines.

Back to van Mensvoort. He showed us the earth by night as captured by satellites. It turns out that even from that distance, we can guess the political choices of various countries. Demonstration above, in the satellite map of North Korea at night.

7. Some media artworks are way too thrilling for me


Daniel de Bruin, Neurotransmitter 3000, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Ruud Balk

Daniel de Bruin, Neurotransmitter 3000

Daniel de Bruin’s Neurotransmitter 3000 is a kind of rollercoaster thrill ride. The machine is controlled by his own biometric data. Heart rate, body temperature, muscle tension and other bodily data are measured and translated to variations in motion. And vice-versa. That’s what true interaction should be like!

The work’s great and i’m a wuss, there’s no way i’ll ever sit on that contraption.

8. My heart beat is really really slow though


Chris Salter, TeZ and Luis Rodil Fernández, Other/Self, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Hanneke Wetzer

At least according to Other/Self, an immersive sound, light and haptic experience in which two visitors gradually get to feel the heartbeat of the other person. It’s an incredibly intimate and disconcerting experience. I experienced the work in the company of the guide who was explaining Other/Self to visitors. She had tried the installation with several visitors before me but was surprised at how slowly my heart was beating. I don’t know whether this is good or bad. I probably need to investigate.

The work is part of Hack the Body, an innovation program that explores the blurry boundaries between intimacy, privacy and technology. More of that, please!

Other moments and works i enjoyed:


Tobias Revell, The Finite State Fantasia, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Blickfänger


Polymorf, The Entangled Body, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Blickfänger


Memo Akten, Fight, exhibition view at STRP. Photo © Willie Kerkhof


STRP Sounds x Albert van Abbe. Photo: © Marcel Krijgsman


Children of the Light, Warping Halos. Photo © Boudewijn Bollmann


What if Collective, MGNT, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Ruud Balk


Sami Sabik, Digital Whispers, exhibition view at STRP. Photo: © Hanneke Wetzer


Stelarc, Rewired/Remixed. Photo: © Hanneke Wetzer

More photos: STRP Biënnale 2017, Conference for the Curious, Opening STRP Biënnale 2017, Press images STRP Biënnale 2017, STRP Sounds x Albert van Abbe, etc. I also have a flickr album.

A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, MU in Eindhoven invited the public to a 2 day long immersion into all things bio art and bio design. The Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend lined up a series talk, panels, workshops and performances and explored how the techniques and challenges of life sciences are embraced by contemporary artists and designers. There’s more details in the first part of the report. Head this way if you haven’t read A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1.)

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Masterclass: Artificial idiocy with Agi Haines. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception (Heart of Stone)

But before i proceed with the final part of my report from the weekend, I need to say something about Eindhoven. Several years ago, i wrote about an exhibition in Eindhoven. I can’t remember what exhibition i was reviewing at the time but i do remember that i wrote that the city looked ‘as dull as dishwater.’ I’ve had a change of heart. Eindhoven always had the Design Academy, the fantastic Van Abbemuseum, the MU art center and various other interesting cultural spaces. But now they have Strijp S, a 27 hectare huge area attracting a dynamic crowd of artists, designers, concept stores, juice bars, a communal vegetable garden and organizations. Strijp S used to be the industrial site of the company Philips. It’s a mere 15 minute walk away from the city center and that’s where MU is now located. And Baltan Laboratories. And the BioArt Laboratories. And more. Each time i go to Strijp, there’s something new, thrilling and stylish to discover.

End of the parenthesis. Let’s get back to Body of Matter and to the artists’ talks, shall we?

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Hongjie Yang, Human Tissue Vase, 2015

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Lecture Hongjie Yang. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Hongjie Yang, Human Tissue Vase. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Hongjie Yang‘s Human Tissue Vase is made of human kidney cells that have been grown on a 3D vase-shaped scaffold. I first dismissed his work, thinking that Tissue Culture and Art Project had been there before with their Victimless Leather jacket. But Yang’s piece has a different focus.

It’s less about the ethics and politics of using tissue culture and more about exploring the place that biotechnology can occupy in the history of design techniques and aesthetics. Furthermore, the designer was also intrigued by the kind of relationship we might develop with artifacts that share genetic information with us. Would we care more for an object made using our own cells? Will human-derived objects blur the distinction between person and object, between alive and inanimate?

The designer is particularly interested in examining the influence that human progress has on aesthetics. New technologies can be seen as disrupting any idea we might have about aesthetics and about the sublime. They create the conditions for new objects and aesthetics to develop. The chisel was disruptive, it enabled for a finer shaping of wood or stone. The Industrial Revolution in England was also aesthetically disruptive because it led to the invention of bone china. We could multiply the examples. But now that we are entering the Post Natural Age, what will the new chisel be? Will we see the emergence of lab-grown china? Will biotech innovations transfer into new aesthetics?

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Lecture Floris Kaayk. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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The public during the Body of Matter special weekend, with Floris Kaayk‘s The Modular Body video in the background. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Floris Kaayk! I had almost forgotten how impressive his work is. I remember seeing Metalosis Maligna for the first time, it was clearly a mockumentary but i was still tempted to believe that the story it narrated was true. Shot in the style of a documentary, the video informed the public about a disease that affects patients with medical implants. Metal implants get infected and start growing inside the body until they sprout out of it, start eating the flesh away and turn human patients into half-organic, half-mechanical beings.

Kaayk creates fictional films, interactive projects and online fictions. He takes a well-known media format and subverts it by replacing existing events with fictional stories. In 2012 his online media project Human Birdwings was all over the press. Told through a series of short youtube videos, the work chronicled the successful adventure of a man building a set of wings that allowed him to fly. Most major news outlet fell for it. Until Kaayk revealed that the inventor and the story were purely fictitious.

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Floris Kaayk, The Modular Body, 2014

Floris Kaayk, The Modular Body, 2014

Kaayk is now working on a new internet story called The Modular Body. The work is inspired by 3D-printed organs and the media format adopted is the one of kickstarter pitch videos. The artist was interested in the gap between what the science can actually do and the way the media presents it. If you read the press, you get the felling that human kidneys, hearts and noses are routinely printed and implanted. But the implementation of 3D printed technology in medicine is still years away from now. The Modular Body fictionalizes this 3D printed body and presents it as the solution to our outdated bodies. Kaayk envisions that in the future we’d have 3D printed body parts that work like detachable modules. We’d be able to combine, plug and connect them to each other according to our needs. We could replace any part that doesn’t function optimally and adapt it to whichever situation we might face. The Modular Body is still a work in progress and it will take the form of a series of footage fragment. The Body of Matter exhibition showed extracts of the final work. It’s pretty gruesome. There are raw bits of flesh crawling over a table.

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Conversation between Charlotte Jarvis and Dr. Reinout Raijmakers from Science for Life

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Charlotte Jarvis, Et In Arcadia Ego. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Charlotte Jarvis, Et In Arcadia Ego. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Charlotte Jarvis invited Dr. Reinout Raijmakers to join her in a conversation about art & science because he is the scientist she turns to whenever she has an idea for a new project but doesn’t know whether it is feasible, which field of science might help her give a tangible form to her projects, etc.

She briefly explained one of her latest works, Et In Arcadia Ego. Part of the MU exhibition, the piece was Jarvis’ attempt to confront her own mortality head on. She worked with Prof. Hans Clevers and Dr Jarno Drost at the Hubrecht Institute to grow gut cancer tumour from her own cells. The project started with a rectoscopy to collect colon tissue. The samples were then grown in vitro and then submitted to mutations that made them cancerous.

Jarvis also talked about Music of the Sphere, a collaboration with Dr. Nick Goldman, the molecular biologist who stored Shakespeare’s Sonnets and other data into synthetic DNA. The artist used Goldman’s technology to encode a new musical recording by the Kreutzer Quartet into DNA. The DNA has been suspended in soap solution and broadcast on the audience with soap bubbles. The ‘recording’ fills the air, pops on visitors skin and literally bathes the audience in music.

The moment i almost dropped my pen and paper was when she talked about her desire to work with scientists on a new project that would consist in encapsulating and recreating the smell of her husband. She could make a fortune if she managed to patent the process! I wouldn’t mind packing a little flask of my boyfriend’s smell whenever i have to travel. Jarvis’ idea actually sparked some animated discussions in the public about perfumes, hormones, pheromones, sexual attraction, Putin body odour and all kinds of notions more or less related to the smell of people we love or loathe.

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Launch of publication The Art of Deception and science panel by Isaac Monté. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Launch of publication The Art of Deception and science panel by Isaac Monté. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Isaac Monté, The Art of Deception. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Isaac Monté talked to me about his project a few months ago (see Can organs be objects of design?) but the show allowed me to finally get to see the final 21 decellularized and modified pig hearts. They are incredibly beautiful and moving. The hearts and their story deserve to tour widely in exhibitions across the world.

The designer worked with Professor Toby Kiers (Free University Amsterdam) to decellularize pig hearts and manipulate each of them as if they were blank canvases that could be tattooed, embroidered, stained, dressed up with precious materials, filled with with concrete, etc. The decellularization process involves stripping organs of their cellular contents, leaving behind a scaffold that can be repopulated with stemcells. Isaac had invited 2 scientists to join him and discuss how far scientists but also artists or designers can go when it comes to manipulating organs. One of the scientists explained how they use decellularization technique in order to respond to the lack of organ donations. Her work consists in exploring how we can turn an unhealthy liver into a liver that can safely be transplanted. They would get rid of the cells in the liver and then fill the empty matrix with good cells.

The designer documented the whole research and creation process in The Art of Deception book.

That’s it for my report from the Body of Matter weekend. May the event inspire other places around Europe to set up new initiatives, commissions and competitions that will help artists and designers dialogue with scientists.

Previously: Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend, A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1), Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design

A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1)

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Agi Haines, Drones with Desires. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Kristin Neidlinger, Wearable garments that give you goosebumps when someone thinks about you. Kristin Neidlinger, Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

At the end of January, the MU art space in Eindhoven dedicated 2 days to bio art and bio design. The Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend invited the public to take part in talk, panels, workshops and performances and explore how the techniques and challenges of life sciences are embraced by contemporary artists and designers. The event followed the theme of the ongoing exhibition Body of Matter which explores (until tonight!) how biotechnology can modify the body and the perception we have of it. What will the ‘normal’ body look like in 5, 10, 20 years time? How will our identity and sense of self change with body modification? Should we impose limits to the way science is going to shape bodies, both on the inside and from the outside? Will science expand our understanding of ‘alive’ and ‘dead’? What role can aesthetics play in discussions about body enhancement?

The weekend was also an opportunity to reflect on the outcome of the Bio Art & Design award which, each year, offers artists and designers a total of 75 000 euros and the opportunity to collaborate with researchers and develop ambitious works that engage with life sciences.

My plan was to wrap up the whole event in one big post but the weekend was so dense in new ideas, food for thought and speculations that i had to write separate stories. First there was Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture which was so stimulating and smart that i decided to dedicate a full post to it. And now i’m going to split the rest of the weekend into two stories. Today, i’ll be sharing my notes from Friday. Tomorrow, i’ll post the ones i took on Saturday.

Body of Matter – Body based bio art and design. Video MU

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William Myers presenting his book Bio Art. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The first speaker who took the floor was the co-curator of the Body of Matter exhibition. William Myers is a teacher, a curator and an author. In 2014, he published ​Biodesign: Nature + Science + Creativity and a few months ago, he looked at the more artistic side of creative works that explore life sciences in his book Bio Art: Altered Realities (i reviewed it last year.) In this publication, Myers argues that bioart doesn’t just encompass the art that engages hands-on with living materials but it can also define works by artists who use more traditional media to respond to shifting definitions of identity, nature and life brought about by the latest advances in life sciences. To him, bioart includes thus art that uses biology as a medium and art that uses biology as a subject. A good example of this broadening of the definition of bioart is Vincent Fournier‘s ongoing series Post-Natural History. At first sight, the photos look like typical animal portraits. Until you realize that there is something off… The species are ‘newcomers’, they have been modified using synthetic biology either to enable them to conform to man’s own needs and desires, or to help them adjust to the biological changes our planet is going through: extreme temperatures, rising pollution levels, etc.

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Emma Dorothy Conley presenting the MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Emma Dorothy Conley, MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Emma Dorothy Conley, MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

I interviewed Emma Dorothy Conley a couple of months ago when her project MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency was announced as one of the winners of the BAD Award competition. Her presentation in Eindhoven refreshed my memory about all things MSA and microbiome. The human microbiome is the collection of microbes that colonize the human body and they do so in such quantity that they outnumber our own cells ten to one. They live inside our body and on our skin and because these bacteria can vary considerably based on our age, diet, habits, geographic location and overall health, scientists believe that they can be used as a unique identifier, much like fingerprints.

Because we shed bacterial cells wherever we go, we might soon see emerge the use of microbiome sequencing in criminal investigations or for commercial or surveillance purposes. Emma’s project explores how we can protect our bioprivacy from these intrusions. The most promising of the strategies she investigated seems to be an obscuration solution that we could spray on our body. The blend mixes all kinds of revolting ingredients such as fermented food and zoo poo to create additional noise and hide the bacterial information that your body carries.

Conley imagined that you could donate a sample of poo or other bacteria-rich bits to an MSA bank. The sample would be added to a pool of bacteria that would be used to make a solution that people would apply on their skin to make their bionome anonymous.

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Lecture by Orion Maxted lecture Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Performance The Machine by Orion Maxted. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Orion Maxted is a performance artist and curator who investigates theatre in relation to systems and algorithms. More specifically he tries to makes machines out of people.

An example of artworks that interest him in that respect is Douglas Gordon’s 1993 video 24 Hour Psycho which, as its title clearly indicates, is a video installation showing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic slowed down so that it lasts for 24 hours. The piece contains the instruction to reproduce it in infinite variations: 24 hour Star Wars, 66 hour Jaws, etc. A work like that one made Maxted think about machines and about mass producing copies of an artwork.

Maxted works with improvisers whom he defines as ‘persons trained to process information in real time.’ He brings them together to ‘form a single thinking system.” Improvisation, according to him, is key to the process because it is full of algorithms, feedback process, etc.

He and his improvisers performed 2 works during the Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend. The first one was The Machine. Completely improvised using algorithms and patterns, the show explores our relationship to machines and the development of language. The actors reproduce and modify each other’s words and gestures according to an algorithm, creating a continually evolving feedback loop. The result is puzzling and entertaining, you sometimes wonder whether the human participants are obeying and serving the system or mischievously generating glitches.

The performance of the final evening worked in a similar fashion, except that it used systems biology computation to generate performance parameters for actors.

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Miserable Machines. Lecture and performance by Špela Petrič. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines: Soot-o-mat

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Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

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Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The elegant patterns of Špela Petrič‘s vases are drawn by mussels. More precisely by tiny muscles removed from the molluscs body and then attached to an electro-stimulated design apparatus. The muscles are kept ‘alive’ by being repeatedly washed with water and shocked so that each tiny spasm of energy they produce is used to scratch lines onto the object. Because the contractions happen only once every 20 minutes or so, the design process takes several hours. The work is both absurd and poignant. A creature is killed in service to the machine, the design, and the product. The work speaks of the commodification of life and the ruthless exploitation of living systems, but it also symbolizes us, the mass of humans actors entrapped in the machine of capitalism.

That’s it for part one! See you tomorrow same time, same place for my notes from Body of Matter / BAD Award Special Day 2.

My images from the Bioart weekend are on flickr.

Previously: Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend, Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design.