Category Archives: gadgets

Dry eyes? Insomnia? Poor posture? The Center for Technological Pain has the solution!

Have you ever felt that your constant use of electronic devices was causing physical pains? Maybe your eyes feel dry from too much screen time. Your elbows are strained. Or maybe you have sleep disorders. Are you worried that your fingers are being eroded by all that swiping and typing? Do you look prematurely aged because of your hunched posture?


Center for Technological Pain, Handsfree headset to liberate the users hands

Center for Technological Pain, Tranquility Cube

In these cases and many others, the Center for Technological Pain has the solution for you. Dasha Ilina, the CEO of the company, designed a series of stunning prototypes that promise to cure your tech-related ailments and even prevent them from appearing.

Instead of selling the miraculous contraptions at the high price they command, Ilina graciously offers small manuals that explain how to build them yourself using affordable materials.


Center for Technological Pain, Friction-Free Gloves leaflet


Center for Technological Pain, How To: Friction-Free Gloves

CTP even customized a series of self-defense techniques and published videos online to teach you how to help your friends and relatives battle tech addiction.

There’s obviously a lot of satire in Ilina’s work. There’s also far more sense that it might seem. After all, we’ve all seen the articles that warn us against sitting for hours in front of a laptop (some extravagantly call it “the new smoking”) or against looking down on your phone (it gives you a double chin, my dear!)

Dasha Ilina is currenty showing the CTP at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris and this Summer she will be teaching her Self-Defense Against Technology moves at NØ School Nevers, a summer school for students, artists, designers, hackers, activists, educators and anyone who wish to engage in critical research around the social and environmental impacts of information and communication technologies.

I asked her to wear her CEO suit and give us lowdown on her promising start-up:

Hi Dasha! What i like about your project is that none of the objects you made would be useful to me (i think). Yet, the Center for Technological Pain drove me to think about the topic of health problems caused by digital technologies a lot. Whereas i would normally prefer to forget about the issue. What brought you to explore the idea of designing solutions to health problems caused by digital technologies? Did you feel there was a demand that wasn’t addressed?

I first started thinking about the relationship between health and technology when I started really looking around me and paying attention to my friends behind their desks, strangers on the streets or cafés and, in addition to that, when I heard endless complaining from my friends that spend all day behind their computers about their constant neck problems, or back pain etc. It wasn’t immediately clear to me to start creating these solutions, but I made one just to try and see what people think of it or how useful they find it. I wouldn’t say that this project was created out of a demand, per say, because I wasn’t making these objects to sell them or even to help people, at first that is.

When I first started working on CTP, it was mainly to come up with efficient, yet totally absurd objects that would serve more as a commentary, rather than design objects. Though there were moments when I considered making highly useful objects, but what’s the fun in that?

Dasha Ilina, Headset to Reduce Eye Dryness

How did you decide which objects to design? Was it the result of complains by people around you? Articles in newspapers?

A lot of the objects are results of either my own tech-pain, or of those around me. For example, the Friction-Free Gloves were a result of a complaint from a friend of mine, who told me that after working on her laptop with the trackpad all day and swiping on her phone, she feels discomfort in her fingertips, as if they’re almost sanding away. This wasn’t anything I ever experienced but she had told me about it after I had committed to create as many solutions as time allowed, so I made the Friction-Free Gloves, which protect your fingertips with sponges. As a nice bonus, since sponges are conductive they can easily be used on a smartphone screen, though not all sponges work super well.

So I’d say about half of the problems came from personal contributions, however a lot of the objects as solutions to the same problem, such as cubital tunnel, came from research. After I’d used up all of my knowledge of tech-pain, I started reading a lot of medical articles. One of my favorite outcomes from one of those articles is the Headset to Reduce Eye Dryness. I was trying to figure out why my eyes were getting so dry and tired after working on my computer, and one of the reasons was that, when looking at a screen, our brains are so occupied with trying to decipher the information on the screen that they forget to send the signal to our eyes to blink as often as we need to. So I thought why not make an object that will put some eye drops in your eyes, in case your brain gets distracted.

Center for Technological Pain, Handsfree headset to liberate the users hands

Center for Technological Pain, Stylus Helmet to Liberate Fingers

The accessories you created for the Center for Technological Pain are ironic and a bit ridiculous-looking. Besides, the risks the project explore sound quite benign so why should we take them seriously?

The objects are quite ridiculous, I agree. They become all the more ridiculous when worn, but the problems the solutions bring up are very real and could potentially lead to serious health problems if not treated early on. With the example of cubital tunnel I read that if the patient has the syndrome and doesn’t do anything to stop putting pressure on the elbow or straining it in general, it could lead to the loss of feeling in the fingertips. Of course, I don’t know how bad someone’s state needs to be in order for it to come to that, however reading about that about a year ago really made me wonder for the first time, whether, if not the objects, then at least CTP shining a light on these health problems lots of people don’t think about could help someone, for example in a preventive way.


The Focus Box. Image courtesy Dasha Ilina

The CTP hosts a series of workshops aimed at empowering and educating people of all ages on the topic of technology-related pain. Do participants come with their own real or imaginary health problems and the solutions to them? Could you take us through some of the most amusing/ingenious ideas and accessories others made during these workshops?

Each session normally starts with a quick presentation of the aim of the workshop, as well as some previously made solutions, so even if the participants don’t have ideas at the beginning of the workshop they normally quite quickly come up with something. Most of the time the problems they work on are really personal, which in my opinion always makes for the most intricate solutions, because as soon as the participant realizes that they’re creating something for their own good (whether they ever use it or not), they become more engaged with the creative process, at least in my experience.

As for the most ingenious ideas there are really so many, but I will pick a few. Just a few weeks ago I hosted a workshop at the Meta Marathon in Düsseldorf, where one of the participants straight away had a very ambitious idea, but one that required him coding a software or a google chrome extension. So we took some time to think about how his idea could be translated into a physical object and eventually he decided to create this Focus Box, because he worked at a software development company where he was constantly distracted by his coworkers. When he started working on it, he told me that he had never used cardboard before and that in order to create this object he needed to first “learn the properties of the material.” He was the last participant to finish his object, but when it was done it was as well constructed as a Google Cardboard!


Belt for mobile phone. Image courtesy Dasha Ilina

Another object I’ll mention briefly was created by a younger participant (around 12 year old) during a workshop at Le Cube. He was clearly quite advanced in the topic of tech-pain, because without hesitation he chose to work on the electromagnetic waves emitted by the cellphone, which could cause damage to the brain. As a solution to this problem, he created a belt in which you would place your phone in order to keep it as far away from your head as possible. I thought it was a great idea, which is why I decided to not bring up the problems that can arise from the placement a phone next to one’s genitals.


A CTP demo. Photo credit: Julien Mouffron-Gardner

All the objects in the collections are as no-tech as can be. Only the “Eye strain reducing glasses” rely on technology. Does that mean that sometimes the only solution to a problem caused by tech is to throw more technology at it?

Maybe! Those glasses were actually the first object I created, so I’m not sure if that could be a reason why it’s the only one that involves tech. I’ve tried thinking about how the same solution, meaning something that forces the user to take a break from the screen, can be performed in a different, no-tech way. I don’t have a good idea just yet, but I think that the best way to achieve the same result would be through a self-defense move, one that would require your partner to karate chop your computer so that it closes therefore forcing you to look up from your screen.

Self Defense Techniques Against Technology

I tried some of your Self-defense moves against technology on my boyfriend. Sleep Defense is a favourite of mine. It never goes down very well though. Why did you make these moves so aggressive and unpleasant for the receiver of these tactics?

That’s great to hear, I’m glad you’re enjoying the moves! They are very aggressive and I do always try to make the point that they could hurt someone. But the reason they are that way is because I did not make them up. All of the self-defense against technology moves are based on real self-defense moves, so of course the tactics come from methods of protection and survival, they are meant to be unpleasant and in their real application they are meant to hurt the other person involved.

You grew up and studied in Russia and then in the USA and now you live in Paris. Have you observed different types of tech-related pains and solutions from country to country? Do people have different ways to misuse and harm themselves with tech in France than in Russia or the US for example?

That’s a great question, of course I wasn’t thinking about tech-pain back when I was living in Russia and the US, so to answer I will have to go off my memories. Something that becomes really problematic in Russia during the winter is the need to use your phone on the street when its -15 degrees outside mixed with the wish to look cool and not wear gloves. Of course on the other side, most of the times (at least with iPhones) when you take your phone out when it’s that cold it just refuses to turn on, so I guess Apple presented us with a solution of their own.

As for the US, the first thing that comes to mind is a very popular, yet very serious problem of texting and driving. I don’t know if percentage wise more people text and drive in the US compared to France and Russia, but the truth is that everyone drives in the US, so it does become a big problem, even if a small percentage of the population does it. When it comes to texting and driving, aside from the obvious safety problems that it causes, which could lead to car crashes, it’s also terrible for the drivers neck, as most often than not it requires constantly looking down. In addition to that, I imagine that it’s also very uncomfortable for the hand that is performing the texting, especially the thumb.


CTP, The Nose Palm move

Any upcoming event or field of research you’d like to share with us?

Yes! There is one event coming up this summer I am particularly excited about, which is NØ School Nevers. It’s an Art and Technology Summer School in Burgundy in France that is organized by one of my former teachers, Benjamin Gaulon. I will be giving a Self-Defense Against Technology class, but besides me there are 29 other artists/hackers/researchers, etc. who will be giving workshops, lectures, performances and more. And if you would believe it there are still some places available to be able to participate in this 2 week long summer program!

Thanks Dasha!

NØ School Nevers, is a unique international summer school, held in Nevers in Burgundy for students, artists, designers, makers, hackers, activists and educators who wish to further their skills and engage in critical research around the social and environmental impacts of information and communication technologies. 1-14 July in Nevers, France.
The Center for Technological Pain is also participating to the show Computer Grrrls. History, Gender, Technology, curated by Inke Arns and Marie Lechner. The exhibition remains open until at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris until 14 July 2019.

Materialism, an exercise in dismantling consumer culture

Studio Drift creates elegant installations and interactive sculptures that explore the relationship between nature, human and technology. The creative duo currently has a solo show at the new, spectacular Amos Rex art museum in Helsinki. During my visit there, I was vexed to learn that everybody but me knew the work of Studio Drift.


Studio Drift, Light bulb, from the series Materialism


Studio Drift, Drifter, 2019. Photo: Stella Ojala for Amos Rex


Studio Drift, VW Beetle 1980, from the series Materialism. Photo by Stella Ojala for Amos Rex

A huge block of concrete floating above visitors’ heads, a light sculpture made of dandelion seeds and LED-lights, etc. Studio Drift excels at experimenting with technology. Materialism, the work in the show that impressed me the most, was decidedly less technologically sophisticated but it nevertheless tells a powerful story about how little we know about the objects we surround ourselves with.

For this series, the designers took consumer goods such as a vacuum cleaner, a classic Nokia phone, a Volkswagen Beetle, a pencil, a PET bottle, a light bulb and a bicycle and literally reduced their complexity to the raw materials they are made of.

Still, Materialism is an affecting exercise in dismantling consumer culture, in leaving aside functions and in ennobling the resources we extract from the Earth at great human and environmental costs.

Studio Drift, Materialism


Studio Drift, Pencil, from the series Materialism


Studio Drift, Gazelle Bicycle 2005, from the series Materialism. Photograph by Gert Jan van Rooij

Each big or small object in their Materialism series becomes unrecognizable. A bicycle is converted to blocks of rubber, polyurethane, steel, aluminum, lacquer paint and other materials. A pencil becomes wood, graphite and a bit of paint. Sometimes the inside of objects is rather surprising. Who knew that a Volkswagen Beetle from the 1980s contained horsehair and cork, for example?

Studio Drift writes that “If humankind could somehow perceive this connection to materials, to our collective consumption and the earth it impoverishes, it would be a leap in our social evolution, in building an awareness that we must somehow become better stewards of our future.” I disagree with that confident statement. I think we’ve been warned time and time again that our reckless looting of the earth is becoming “unsustainable”. Newspapers, documentaries and scientists have spent the past few years telling the Western world that we need to consume less, that resources are not infinite, etc. And yet, we’re still here. Students are protesting in the streets and politicians pretend younger generations will get tired of asking for a future we’ve stolen from them.


Studio Drift, Nokia 3210, from the series Materialism. Installation view at Amos Rex


Studio Drift, Dandelight, from the series Materialism. Photograph by Gert Jan van Rooij


Studio Drift, VW Beetle 1980, from the series Materialism


Studio Drift, Materialism at Amos Rex. Photo by Stella Ojala

I’ll end with a few images of the Amos Rex art museum. Its programme of exhibitions that mixes the ultra contemporary with modern artists (right now they have a big show dedicated to René Magritte) is almost as impressive as its architecture. JKMM Architects excavated the ground beneath an ex-bus station, hid the museum down there and created skylights that bubble up through the surface of the ground as domes, turning the square into a playground for skaters and children. The space also has the usual museum shop and an exquisitely renovated Art Deco cinema called Bio Rex.


Amos Rex Art Museum, Helsinki. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo / Amos Rex, 2018


Amos Rex Art Museum, Helsinki. Photo: Mika Huisman / Amos Rex


Amos Rex Art Museum, Helsinki. Photo: Mika Huisman / Amos Rex


Amos Rex, Bio Rex, Helsinki. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo / Amos Rex, 2018


Amos Rex, Bio Rex (interior), Helsinki

Elemental, Studio Drift’s solo show, remains open at Amos Rex in Helsinki until 19 May 2019 alongside the first show in Finland dedicated to René Magritte.

Vapour Meat: a helmet to vape the essence of ‘clean meat’

Animals that fake their appearance to blend in their surrounding and attract their prey, people who fake a delirious state of bliss on social media, girls who prefer fake fur (or ‘fantasy fur’ as Lagerfeld called it) to the real one, etc. Sometimes the fake is just a little bit more desirable than the real. And if you’re worried about animal welfare, broken food systems and the future of our planet, then fake meat, and in particular lab-grown meat, looks like the saviour humanity was waiting for. It will be cruelty free, greenhouse gases free and guilt free. At least that’s the promise.


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Technological solutions like lab-grown meat come with ethical, ecological and economic costs that receive far less coverage in the press than the cheerful myths and fictions heralded by the proponents of the technology. As previous works by The Tissue Culture & Art Project have demonstrated time and again (from Disembodied Cuisine which pioneered the lab-grown meat practice to Stir Fly, a bioreactor designed to culture and farm in vitro insect meat at home), one of the most contentious aspects of tissue engineering is its use of fetal bovine serum as a nutrient for the cells. Harvested from unborn calves, usually by drawing the blood directly from the heart of the fetus after the pregnant mother is slaughtered, FBS enables the cells to grow and multiply into meat for our consumption.

There are plant-based alternatives to the FBS of course but their content and formulation is wrapped in IP claims, NDAs and secrecy. And if there’s one thing our food systems need almost as much as the eradication of cruel practices, it’s transparency. This fake meat lack of transparency is reflected in the language adopted by the industry: they talk of “clean meat” and of “cellular agriculture”, for example.

Besides, growing cells in this way is also grossly inefficient. It requires considerable amount of resources and engineering on several levels: replicating the experience of eating meat is not just a question of aspect and taste, it also involves the reproduction of the meat texture, elasticity, smell, etc.


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Vapour Meat, by Devon Ward and Oron Catts tries to unpack the growing uneasiness with meat and the murkiness that surrounds its artificial duplicates. The work pushes the discourse around lab-grown meat to its most extreme limits by imagining a device that would enable meat lovers to vape the essence of lab-grown meat.

Vapour Meat casts a critical and sarcastic eye at an industry typified by eco-opportunism and a love for the techno fix (why stop eating meat and consume plant-based proteins when you can throw a bit of science on a problem?) Ward and Catts see lab-grown meat as a kind of vapourware, a term used in the computer industry to design a computer hardware or software product that is announced to the general public but is never actually manufactured nor officially cancelled. Which is pretty much what is happening with in-vitro meat, a technology that has been described as ‘just around the corner’ for years. Yet, it remains unclear how the technology will be scaled up beyond prototypes or how it will comply with appropriate safety standards and relevant regulations across nations.

Vapour Meat is an example of what Catts and Ionat Zurr call a work of contestable design. Instead of evoking the desirable objects and scenarios typical of speculative design, contestable design submits to public scrutiny scenarios that underscore future problematic uses of a technological or scientific process.

FAKE: Faux or no? at Science Gallery Dublin

Vapour Meat uses this scenario to posit a future in which we reach for the fake and the technological in lieu of the real. As such, it’s one of the most interesting and curious works you can see at FAKE: The Real Deal?, a free exhibition at the Dublin Science Gallery that asks if life is better when we embrace the artificial.

I’ll come back with a long and proper review of the show later on. In the meantime, i got in touch with Devon Ward to learn more about Vapour Meat:

Hi Devon! What’s in the vapour that makes it smell like meat? How did you develop this artificial smell?

The vapour is composed of a mixture of different essential oils, infused oils and spices. I used my home cooking as the starting point to develop the smell. Many of the elements are based on spices I use when cooking. Without giving too much away, the vapour liquid contains infused oils that include flavours like smoked paprika and cumin. There are also small amounts of essential oils including sandalwood and basil, which aim at a mixture of smoky and sweet.


Devon Ward and Oron Catts, Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1]alpha, 2018. Exhibition view. Image courtesy of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

On the one hand, the work might also be seen as a demonstration of the absurdity and excesses of the whole synthetic and lab grown meat industry that requires so much efforts, technology and artifices in order to produce proteins that could be found elsewhere, in a ‘natural’ state. So how does a work like Vapour Meat position itself within the fake meat issue?

You’re right, Vapour Meat isn’t too far from what companies may soon be producing. We may see ‘clean’ meat products that adopt sophisticated food presentation techniques to sell in vitro meat to a niche market. I wouldn’t be surprised if these companies create products inspired by Rene Redzepi or David Chang. For instance, labs may start serving ‘clean’ rabbit caviar on a bed of locally sourced arugula topped with owl mousse and a GFP-infused salt. And if a waiter served it, I can almost hear them saying something like, “this dish is a taste of our current cultural moment. It gives you the flavour of our biotech terroir, something lab-crafted and home-grown, at the same time. It’s a lab-to-table experience…” We may even see products that reference Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook. Someone might make a dish based on his Chickenfiat, a dish made of chicken and ball-bearings. The ‘Clean’ Chickenfiat recipe might call for in vitro chicken cells grown over the surface of steel ball-bearings served in a Martini glass while you sit in the cockpit of a VR flight simulator with LCD windows that display an orbit around Jupiter. All of this is to say that we may see elaborate spectacles being employed in order to sell ‘clean’ meat. The ‘clean’ meat industry wants to replace farm-grown meat with lab-grown meat, but it may just end up creating high-end products that only a few people can afford. The individuals pushing these grand visions seem to really gravitate toward highly technical fixes. This idea was dealt with by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr in works like Disembodied Cuisine and Victimless Leather. And, Oron wrote an article for The Conversation last year that tries to unpack the hype-cycle around the lab-grown meat.

Vapour Meat definitely builds off of these ideas. The way I see it, Vapour Meat is a critical piece that satirises the recent cultural developments around lab-grown meat. It attempts to draw parallels between the ails of start-up cultures and the ‘clean’ meat industry.

The name Vapour Meat was inspired by the term vapourware, which describes software that is heavily hyped in order to draw interest and investors, but which never delivers on its promises. In other words, vapourware is something that deals with marketing, speculation, ideal and utopia. The term seemed utterly relevant, so Oron and I developed Vapour Meat to explore the overlaps between vapourware and ‘clean’ meat. We created an absurd product that literally produces nothing but vapour, but attempts to convey the ‘essence of meat’ through smell and small quantities of desiccated mouse muscle fibres (C2C12s). The work seemed to critically engage with the big promises of the ‘clean’ meat industry—namely that it will replace animal farming and dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions. Could ‘clean’ meat theoretically solve major issues around animal farming? Sure, but I have trouble seeing ‘clean’ meat live up to its grand ideals. There may be a place for in vitro meat in the future, but it may just be another signifier of status, power and wealth. ‘Clean’ meat may just be a form of conspicuous consumption.

And why does the title also feature “HP0.3.1 Alpha”? What does this correspond to?

“HP0.3.1 alpha” comes from software development nomenclature, which includes a code name, version number, and development stage. It’s a bit of an Easter egg for anyone working with software. In general, because we wanted to explore the overlaps between software start-up culture and biotech start-up culture, the nomenclature was another way to communicate that connection.

The “HP” stands for homeopathic. We were unable to include in vitro meat cells in the liquid reservoir for health and safety reasons, so this reality became the code name for our project. The “0.3.1” is due to the fact that work at the Science Gallery Dublin is actually the third version. Vapour Meat was in development for a year and previous versions involved other artists, so we thought this was a fitting way to acknowledge their involvement. We labelled this version of the work “alpha” due to the fact that it’s still being developed further. Also “alpha” is used to designate “white-box testing,” which was appropriate for a gallery exhibition.

Thanks Devon!

The exhibition FAKE: The Real Deal? remains open at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin until the 3rd of June 2018.

DocLab exhibition asks “Are robots imitating us or are we imitating robots?”


DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum


Jonathan Harris exhibition in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

The 11th edition of IDFA DocLab closed on Sunday at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. An integral part of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), DocLab looks at how contemporary artists, designers, filmmakers and other creators use technology to devise and pioneer new forms of documentary storytelling. It’s a space for debates, conversations, VR experiences, interactive experiments and workshops.

For some reason, i thought that this year’s programme was even more intense than in previous years and i’m going to need 3 blog posts to cover all the ideas and projects i found particularly interesting. There will be one story summing up the notes i took during the DocLab: Interactive Conference. Another post will briefly comment on some of the interactive documentaries i saw in Amsterdam and back home. And today, i’d like to look at a couple of installations that explore the main theme of the festival: Uncharted Rituals or how we have to constantly, subtly and often unknowingly adjust our behaviour and mindset to technology. Instead of the other way round.

Robots and computers are acting more and more like people. They’re driving around in cars, hooking us up with new lovers and talking to us out of the blue. But is the opposite also true— are people acting more and more like robots?

The computers may think so: addicted to our phones, caught in virtual filter bubbles and dependent on just a handful of tech companies, people are acting more and more predictably. The breakthrough of artificial intelligence and immersive media doesn’t just pose the question what technology does to us, but also what we do with this technology.

I have only 3 works to submit to you today but each of them makes valuable comments about the way we might one day have to dance with and around technology in order to coexist with it:


Max Pinckers and Dries Depoorter, Trophy Camera v0.9, 2017


Max Pinckers and Dries Depoorter, Trophy Camera v0.9, 2017


Max Pinckers and Dries Depoorter, Trophy Camera v0.9 at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

A photographic image is never objective. It is always framed by human aesthetic choices, agendas and conscious or unconscious bias. The Trophy Camera v0.9 aggregates this element of human subjectivity into a photo camera that can only make award-winning pictures.

The AI-powered camera, developed by photographer Max Pinckers and media artist (and DocLab Academy alumnus) Dries Depoorter, has been trained by all the photos that have won an award at the World Press Photo competition, from 1955 to the present.

Based on the identification of labeled patterns, the experimental device is programmed to identify, shoot and save only images that it predicts have at least a 90% chance of winning the competition. These photos are then automatically uploaded to a dedicated website: trophy.camera. I tried several times but my photos were never deemed award-worthy by the camera.


Burhan Ozbilici, WPP of the year 2017


and its trophy.camera version?

The work reminded me of the World Press Photo awards of 2011 when Michael Wolf won an honorary mention in Contemporary Issues with a photo he made by placing a camera on a tripod in front of a computer screen running Google Street View. The award raised a heated debate among photographers. For some of them, Wolf didn’t take the pictures, the cameras on Google street car automatically did it. This is therefore not photojournalism. And yet, who would have paid attention to these scenes if Wolf hadn’t recognized and framed them?

Trophy Camera v0.9 is tongue-in-cheek and irreverent but it points to a future when algorithms will win prizes that have traditionally recognized human creativity and vision.


Sander Veenhof, Patent Alert

Sander Veenhof, Patent Alert

Google, Microsoft and other tech companies are fighting over patents for the smart glasses that scan the environment and layer information over it.

One company owns the rights to scanning common hand gestures, while another holds a patent on helping you to cross the road. Patent Alert exposes the patenting obstacles that will intrude on our experiences with augmented reality headsets once the technology becomes mainstream.

Sander Veenhof created a HoloLens app that uses a cloud-based Computer Vision library to analyse your surrounding and warn you about gestures and behaviours that are not allowed because they are covered by a patent that’s not owned by the supplier of the device you are wearing.

Memo Akten, Learning to see: Hello World! [WIP R&D 3]


Memo Akten, Learning to See: Hello World! at DocLab Expo: Uncharted Rituals. Exhibition view in de Brakke Grond, part of the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Memo Akten‘s Learning to See series of works uses Machine Learning algorithms to reflect on how we make sense of the world and consequently distort it, influenced by our expectations.

One of the investigations in the series, Hello, World!, explores the process of learning and understanding developed by a deep neural network “opening its eyes for the first time.”

The neural network starts off completely blank. It will learn by looking for patterns in what it’s seeing. Over time, the system will built up a database of similarities and connections and use it to make predictions of the future.

Interestingly, Akten’s description of the learning process holds a mirror back to us: But the network is training in realtime, it’s constantly learning, and updating its ‘filters’ and ‘weights’, to try and improve its compressor, to find more optimal and compact internal representations, to build a more ‘universal world-view’ upon which it can hope to reconstruct future experiences. Unfortunately though, the network also ‘forgets’. When too much new information comes in, and it doesn’t re-encounter past experiences, it slowly loses those filters and representations required to reconstruct those past experiences.

How far can we go when we draw parallels between the way a computer trains itself and the way we learn? Are humans the only one who are capable of turning learning into understanding? Or will computers beat us at that too one day? But perhaps more crucially, can computer help us see and oppose our own cognitive biases?

Shanzhai Archeology: defying our standardized technological imagination


DISNOVATION.ORG (With Clément Renaud & Yuan Qu), Shanzhai Archeology. Photo : Sébastien Moitrot


Shanzhai Archeology – Research Database – beta. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

Over the past couple of years, Maria Roszkowska, Clément Renaud and Nicolas Maigret from DISNOVATION.ORG have been quietly smuggling odd-looking phones from China to Europe. They’ve got a phone that doubles up as a stun gun, one that’s shaped like a big strawberry, one you can use to light up your cigarette, one that will assist you in your religious rituals, etc.

These bizarre devices belong to the shanzhai production. They are counterfeit consumer goods, sold at lower prices and boasting multifunctional performances.

There’s a lot to admire about them though. First, they were designed to respond to very specific market needs. Second, they are hybrid products that emerge directly from the technological cross-breeding of the Made in China. These odd-looking artifacts question the hyper-normalised western technological imaginary and challenge the monopoly of our black touch-screen rectangles.

Shanzhai Archeology is an experimental research project that uses shanzhai as the starting point for a critical reflection on the normalization process of Occidental technological imaginations.

After a preliminary research on the industrial and political history of the shanzhai (see The Pirate Book), the members of DISNOVATION.ORG have been building up a collection of some 60 hybrid phones. About half of them were exhibited at the Mapping festival which took place a few weeks ago in Geneva. That’s where i started to talk with some of the members of DISNOVATION.ORG….


Shanzhai Archeology – Research Database – beta. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

Hi Maria, Nicolas and Clément! How did you go about hunting for those curious handsets? And then how did you manage to ship them to Europe where they are illegal?

For 3 years, we’ve been collecting rare devices online (mostly on Taobao and Alibaba) and in underground Chinese malls. We then stored them at Clement’s and Yuan family in Qingdao, China.
The tricky part started when we had a show in France (for the Biennale Internationale Design of Saint-Etienne), and we had only a few months to bring all the phones from China to Europe where they cannot be legally imported. Many phones feature copies of brand names (SVMSMVG, MORIOROIA), sometimes of multiple brands (PCRSEHE and PORSCHE on the same phone). Most of them would never pass EU, UK or USA safety or branding requirements. They are simply not allowed go through customs. You can actually purchase stickers to pretend they are compliant with the rules, but this is probably not a good idea :)


Shanzhai Archeology, Stickers collection, 2015

Besides, since April 1, 2016 you’re not supposed to travel with lithium-ion batteries, shipping them overseas from China is now forbidden. We thus had to spend hours on the phone with border control, trade administration offices, customs, and various mail services in both countries. Basically, no official solution exists for electronics traveling as artworks. You’re just not supposed to carry a non-compliant device anywhere in Europe or USA. In the end, we did everything illegally / a-legally. We transported them one by one in planes, we asked family and friends to smuggle them, we had them shipped in slow Chinese post parcels, or broken down into parts and without battery in DHL parcels. So far, we’ve received 80 to 90% of our collection. We also learned a lot about the customs system in the process.


Shanzhai Archeology. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG


Shanzhai Archeology – Research Database – beta. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

Could you tell us about some of these curious models?

For the Shanzhai Archeology research, we identified a series of phones manufactured in Shenzhen. Each of them combines several functions. They are hybrid objects that reflect very specific uses and are accompanied by stories and narratives.

The Buddha Phone is presented like a “virtual prayer room” – it is equipped with a touch that loads a kind of private, virtual and customizable altar. It is supposed to help Buddhists perform their rituals when they are away from home. You can simulate the burning of incense, replicate purification rites or play music to help you meditate wherever you are.

The Sound System Phone: China has a long tradition of phone for pensioners. The buttons are bigger, the sound is louder and it offers shortcuts for “sonny”, “daughter-in-law”, etc. One of pensioners’ favourite activities (along with mahjong) consists in dancing on public squares. It’s called guangchang wu. The sound system phone was conceived to broadcast loud sound outdoors. It integrates a small support to make it stand in front of the dancers. It also comes with several gigabytes of old-fashioned communist songs that Chinese pensioners are particularly keen on. The dances usually take place in the evening, in small rural villages which often lack street lighting. The phone thus features a powerful torch to ensure a smooth return home after the dance.

Square dance in a Chinese village

The Power Bank Phone: Ghana is currently going through a major power grid crisis: blackouts in the city can last for 36 hours on end. As a result, a significant business activity has grown around the sale of portable USB chargers that can charge electronic devices or even power bulbs. The Power Bank Phone, designed for this particular market, combines a 10000 Mh USB charger, an LED flashlight, and 3 sim card slots to connect the entire family or to take advantage of promotions offered by different operators.


DISNOVATION.ORG (With Clément Renaud & Yuan Qu), Shanzhai Archeology. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

The Prisoner Phone: marketed as “the smallest in the world”, this phone is made of 99% plastic, meaning that it will be barely detectable during checks in prison, it is easy to conceal and transport, especially via drones or carrier pigeons. It is also equipped with a “voice changer”.

The Taser Phone: marketed as a self-defense weapon, especially in case of snatching, the taser-phone is illegal in many countries. It is routinely seized at French customs.


DISNOVATION.ORG (With Clément Renaud & Yuan Qu), Shanzhai Archeology. Photo : Sébastien Moitrot

Does the little booth you built to display the phones echo the ones you saw in China?

Yes, the kiosk compiles distinctive elements we spotted in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hong-Kong. For Shanzhai Archeology, we wanted to insert these telecommunication devices into their original context. Our inspiration were street vendors as well as the ‘malls’, those gigantic covered marketplaces where you can find small shops selling phones, gadgets and electronic components. We also kept a record of the names of the shops, in particular the ones where we bought the phones. This kiosk is called 手机百货 (shouji baihuo), a name used by hundreds of shops in China. Its very standard aspect and the adoption of common brands is a nod: we copy what works. One of the main inspirations for this booth is the Huaqiangbei hub in Shenzhen where you can buy most of the electronic accessories that are shipped from China to be exported. Huaqiangbei counts several thousands phone booths. However, you can find a smaller version of this type of hub in other Chinese cities. We are only presenting one of them, as a conservation copy.


DISNOVATION.ORG (With Clément Renaud & Yuan Qu), Shanzhai Archeology. Photo: Sébastien Moitrot


Shanzhai Archeology – Research Database – beta. Photo: DISNOVATION.ORG

And finally what made Shenzhen such a relevant city to investigate for the project?

It is the geographical area where most of the world electronics are produced and assembled.

We focused on the “phone” object as it plays a key role in the larger history of technological hybridization. More precisely, in the history of technological production that defies Western norms and standards. This project is an entry point to other technological imaginations, miles away from the black tactile rectangle (which has become the representation by default of the mobile phone).

Besides, Shenzhen is at the center of attention at the moment, it is THE place to buy electronics or get them manufactured. All kinds of “makers” and entrepreneurs flood the city. The place is changing very quickly, it is moving from the status of factory of the world to the one of world capital of design. The transformation of the city also involves the rewriting of its history, and more generally the history of the ‘Made in China’. Shanzhai products are gradually disappearing from the market, to be replaced by more standardized, more profitable, more globalized ones. In Shenzhen, the shanzhai has reached an almost mythical status, because of the role it played in the history of the city. We also need to keep in mind that the production of these weird phones involves a particularly complicated social reality, with farmers working in factories, often in objectionable conditions. We plan to resume this on-site survey before the Chinese industrial transition has completely erased all traces of this history and replaced it with a more homogenized discourse that focuses solely on design and on the iteration between product and market. With Shanzhai Archeology, we hope to capture and communicate the real history of the production of these hybrid objects.

Thanks Maria, Nicolas and Clément!

Design My Privacy. 8 Principles for Better Privacy Design

00a0adesignmyprivacyy8Design My Privacy. 8 Principles for Better Privacy Design, by Tijmen Schep.
With foreword by Mieke Gerritzen, Director of MOTI, the Museum of the Image in Breda.

On amazon usa and uk.

BIS Publishers write: How can we protect our privacy in this digital era? Because of the emerging of ‘The internet of things’ this question becomes more and more relevant to designers. Technology becomes part of our daily used products. Watches, clothing, cars, houses are becoming ‘smart’, all being connected to the ‘cloud’. This book gives you guidance on how to design for privacy.

This book is written to encourage designers to think about and to design for privacy issues. The technology behind the smart products and systems are so complex, that for the consumer it is difficult to understand what the consequences are for everyday life. Designers have to start thinking about transparency and accessibility in the design of privacy-sensitive products and services. This book offers the designer guidance, in the form of eight design principles, that help with designing products and services.

Screen-Shot-2014-05-23-at-9.24.59-PM
Owen Mundi, I Know Where Your Cat Lives

Privacy concerns are taking a beating these days: China is implementing a social credit system meant to rate each citizen’s trustworthiness, UK has just legalized a series ofextreme surveillance measures and let’s not cry over what the orange fascist is going to inflict to American citizens worried about data-collection by intelligence agencies.

The Design My Privacy booklet invites designers to engage with privacy issues instead of leaving the whole discussion into the hands of IT experts.

SETUP medialab, The National Birthday Calendar (teaser)

The author of the book, technology critic Tijmen Schep, lists 8 design principles that designers should keep in mind while working on products and services in the age of the Internet of Things.

These principles require the designers to be practical (by including privacy features right from the start of the project in order to avoid costly updates later), humble (allowing users to customize according to their own needs and culture), brave (standing up to a client who would like to collect as much data as possible), malicious (thinking like a hacker and forecasting all the ways the technology can be abused), critical (realizing that designers imbue designs with codes of law, cultural norms and prejudice), etc.

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James Bridle, Citizen-Ex


James Bridle, Citizen-Ex

Aside from the 8 principles, the book also contains plenty of case studies, examples of artistic projects contributing to the privacy discussion, a crash course on the value of privacy, a glossary of important terms and concepts, a reading list, a series of interviews with experts such as Marcel Schouwenaar and Jaap Stronks and a contribution by Frank Koppejan about prospective European privacy legislation. There’s even a little privacy pop quiz about the very blurred boundaries between reality and science fiction.

Lauren McCarthy and Kile McDonald, pplkpr

Design My Privacy is a witty, practical and thoughtful little book. It constitutes a useful tool for designers who want to create products and environments which balance efficiency, user-friendliness and privacy. But it can also serve as a sensible companion for customers who might want to know what to look for and what to be cautious about next time they plan to buy a car insurance, smart watch or energy saving outlet.

Views inside the book:

0phonedroneclones

irevealmyatribbbut

sampleannnaaalys

Image on the homepage stolen from HUH magazine.

Design My Privacy. 8 Principles for Better Privacy Design

00a0adesignmyprivacyy8Design My Privacy. 8 Principles for Better Privacy Design, by Tijmen Schep.
With foreword by Mieke Gerritzen, Director of MOTI, the Museum of the Image in Breda.

On amazon usa and uk.

BIS Publishers write: How can we protect our privacy in this digital era? Because of the emerging of ‘The internet of things’ this question becomes more and more relevant to designers. Technology becomes part of our daily used products. Watches, clothing, cars, houses are becoming ‘smart’, all being connected to the ‘cloud’. This book gives you guidance on how to design for privacy.

This book is written to encourage designers to think about and to design for privacy issues. The technology behind the smart products and systems are so complex, that for the consumer it is difficult to understand what the consequences are for everyday life. Designers have to start thinking about transparency and accessibility in the design of privacy-sensitive products and services. This book offers the designer guidance, in the form of eight design principles, that help with designing products and services.

Screen-Shot-2014-05-23-at-9.24.59-PM
Owen Mundi, I Know Where Your Cat Lives

Privacy concerns are taking a beating these days: China is implementing a social credit system meant to rate each citizen’s trustworthiness, UK has just legalized a series ofextreme surveillance measures and let’s not cry over what the orange fascist is going to inflict to American citizens worried about data-collection by intelligence agencies.

The Design My Privacy booklet invites designers to engage with privacy issues instead of leaving the whole discussion into the hands of IT experts.

SETUP medialab, The National Birthday Calendar (teaser)

The author of the book, technology critic Tijmen Schep, lists 8 design principles that designers should keep in mind while working on products and services in the age of the Internet of Things.

These principles require the designers to be practical (by including privacy features right from the start of the project in order to avoid costly updates later), humble (allowing users to customize according to their own needs and culture), brave (standing up to a client who would like to collect as much data as possible), malicious (thinking like a hacker and forecasting all the ways the technology can be abused), critical (realizing that designers imbue designs with codes of law, cultural norms and prejudice), etc.

citizen-eiiiiiiix
James Bridle, Citizen-Ex


James Bridle, Citizen-Ex

Aside from the 8 principles, the book also contains plenty of case studies, examples of artistic projects contributing to the privacy discussion, a crash course on the value of privacy, a glossary of important terms and concepts, a reading list, a series of interviews with experts such as Marcel Schouwenaar and Jaap Stronks and a contribution by Frank Koppejan about prospective European privacy legislation. There’s even a little privacy pop quiz about the very blurred boundaries between reality and science fiction.

Lauren McCarthy and Kile McDonald, pplkpr

Design My Privacy is a witty, practical and thoughtful little book. It constitutes a useful tool for designers who want to create products and environments which balance efficiency, user-friendliness and privacy. But it can also serve as a sensible companion for customers who might want to know what to look for and what to be cautious about next time they plan to buy a car insurance, smart watch or energy saving outlet.

Views inside the book:

0phonedroneclones

irevealmyatribbbut

sampleannnaaalys

Image on the homepage stolen from HUH magazine.

Book review – Goodbye iSlave. A Manifesto for Digital Abolition

41QWY245+BLGoodbye iSlave. A Manifesto for Digital Abolition, by Jack Linchuan Qiu, Assistant Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Chinese University of Hong Kong and he is also part of the Hong Kong-based NGO SACOM Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour.

On amazon US and UK.

Publisher University of Illinois Press writes: Welcome to a brave new world of capitalism propelled by high tech, guarded by enterprising authority, and carried forward by millions of laborers being robbed of their souls. Gathered into mammoth factory complexes and terrified into obedience, these workers feed the world’s addiction to iPhones and other commodities–a generation of iSlaves trapped in a global economic system that relies upon and studiously ignores their oppression.

Focusing on the alliance between Apple and the notorious Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn, Jack Linchuan Qiu examines how corporations and governments everywhere collude to build systems of domination, exploitation, and alienation. His interviews, news analysis, and first-hand observation show the circumstances faced by Foxconn workers–circumstances with vivid parallels in the Atlantic slave trade. Ironically, the fanatic consumption of digital media also creates compulsive free labor that constitutes a form of bondage for the user. Arguing as a digital abolitionist, Qiu draws inspiration from transborder activist groups and incidents of grassroots resistance to make a passionate plea aimed at uniting–and liberating–the forgotten workers who make our twenty-first-century lives possible.

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Foxconn suicide survivor Tian Yu was 17 when she jumped from the roof of a Foxconn factory. Via SCMP

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Greenpeace Switzerland. Foxconn @ Public Eye Awards 2011 (iSlave.) Adbusting for the Public Eye Awards 2011

Despite all its innovations and promises, the contemporary world remains plagued by slavery: children are kidnapped to become soldiers or sold to solve family debt, women are trafficked into prostitution or forced domestic labor, inmates work for the prison-industrial complex with no pay, etc.

Digital media plays a role in slavery too. Our gadgets need to be produced materially. Tin aluminium, cobalt and coltan and other materials have to be extracted (too often by children working in dangerous and appalling conditions); plastics need to be processed and shaped; components have to be assembled. Both the raw materials and the finished products have to be transported. Before the laptop or mobile phone lands into our hands it has caused much suffering, increase in social inequalities and human rights violations.

Who Pays the Price? The Human Costs of Electronics

BBC One – Panorama, Apple’s Broken Promises

Linchuan Qiu analyzes the world of profit making and human exploitation that makes ‘progress’ possible. The focus of his research is the Apple-Foxconn alliance. Foxconn is the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, it employs 1.4 million workers in China alone. Apple is the multinational technology company that entrusts the making of its luxury electronics to Foxconn without seeming to do much to improve the labor practices in the factories.

The investigation carried out by the author reveals that Foxconn is an independent kingdom in itself, state authorities only have restricted access to it, it has its own traffic rules and it is overlooked by guards known for their brutality towards workers (from a slap on the face to torturing, detaining and even maiming, although guards are allowed less liberties after the suicide wave of 2010.)

Although they improve with each scandal, the sleeping, living and working conditions of Foxconn employees are shocking. Interns are blatantly exploited. Resigning from the job is made as humiliating as possible but Foxconn is free to fire its employees without much ceremony in times of market slowdown. Victims of work injury and ex-workers suffering from health problems because of exposure to poisonous chemicals in the working place hardly ever get any compensation. And whenever Foxconn is brought to court by employees, ex-employees and their families, it is never made to bear any civil or criminal responsibility. I could go on but i suspect you’ve read it all before.

Deconstructing Foxconn

Maybe Foxconn and Apple are not even the worst offenders but Linchuan Qiu chose to zoom in on them because they embody a global regime gone wrong and the parallels he draws between 17th-century slavery transatlantic trade with 21st-century digital media enslavement are pertinent and enlightening.

The author looked into the history, sociology and legislation of slavery and found out that despite the centuries separating them, New World slave trade and today’s global IT industry are united by many similarities.

First of all, there is little regard for the human beings who work behind the curtains of our consumption culture. But what is most upsetting is our own complicity. Contemporary gadgets, it seems, are as addictive as sugar was to the Old World. The ultimate slave, the author notes, is the one who is voluntarily shackled, the one who yearns for the latest piece of electronics (and is ready to sells his kidney in order to get it), the one who’s too happy to work in the data mine. Consumption culture is not only responsible for the manufacturing iSlave, it is also relying on the “manufactured iSlave”.

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Molleindustria, Phone Story. Image GiantBomb

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Yue Yuen shoe factory strike in Dongguan. Image SCMP

There is light at the end of the tunnel though! As long as there is slavery, there will be resistance to it. Linchuan Qiu details how today’s workers form their own networks and resist the logic of capital, how they use social network to protest and share stories, how global solidarity is slowly rising and how individual projects –such as Fairphone and Phone Story— confront the ‘Poisonous Apple.’ The author even compared Fairphone to the ‘free produce’ stores started in Baltimore in 1826 by Quaker and free black abolitionists to provide alternative mode of commerce so that consumers could use their purses to show their support to the slaves.

iphonepic3girl
Photos of Foxconn worker “The iPhone girl” were found in a brand new iPhone in UK

I already knew of artists, activists and journalists who investigate labour issues in digital technology but so far, i had never encountered academics whose writings focused on similar critiques of the global IT industry. Jack Linchuan Qiu has written an impeccably researched treatise that analyses how slave-powered economies are enabled by global systems but also by individual, alienating, fanatical consumerism. Perhaps more interestingly, his book also reminds us that technology is not in itself a guarantee of progress and emancipation.

Out of Play: Technology & Football

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Malik Thomas, Football Engineering Images

This Friday, the National Football Museum in Manchester is opening a new season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts. One of the highlights of the programme is Out of Play: Technology & Football, an exhibition that explores the impact that new technologies have in the development of the game but also on the way it is experienced by fans around the world.

Out of Play: Technology & Football brings together works by designers, artists, scientists and fans who explore and demonstrate how football and new technology overlap in today's society.

The works on show range from a robotic soccer robot to the Soccket energy generating football, from the ever irresistible and painful Leg Shocker to the world premier of Jer Thorp's immersive installation The Time of the Game. The result is an interactive exhibition that brings into a highly popular museum an entertaining but also critical and provocative view of the impact that technology has on 'the beautiful game.'

The show opens tomorrow and i'm looking forward to visiting it in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime i caught up with curator John O'Shea. You might remember John from his work as an artist. When he isn't busy growing Pigs Bladder Football from living animal cells and developing his other artworks, John is the Art Curator and Head of visual art programme at the NFM. He has spent the past two years embedded in the museum with the goal of establishing an art and technology exhibiting and learning programme from scratch.

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

Hi John! First of all what can technology do for football? How does it impact the game itself on the football pitch? Excuse my very boring remark but it's always the same game of men running after a ball after all...

Over the past few years, some interesting questions related to technology and football have emerged. For example, during last year's world cup, goal-line technology was introduced following many debates around whether or not football should remain this 'primitive' game or whether technology should intervene on the field.

Connecting with these concerns, last year, the National Football Museum commissioned James Bridle to write a piece about it. In his essay, Spectacular Sports Visualisations, Bridle analyzes football and computer vision technology.

We also collaborated with the festival FutureEverything on a body of works that looks at the intersection of data and football. The commissioned work was the Winning Formula futuristic newspaper by the Near Future Laboratory.

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Near Future Laboratory, Winning Formula newspaper. Photo by Fabien Girardin

But even data and computer vision fit a conventional story of technology, it's about control, about making the game more consistent.

The exhibition Out of Play is different, it's not about showcasing the latest advances of technology but about looking at the more unusual points where technology and football are intersecting. And the outcomes are often weird, unfamiliar.

The Time of The Game is the major new commission which will be presented within the museum's immersive, 180 degree wrap-around, cinema space. Developed by Jer Thorp with Teju Cole and Mario Klingemann, the work brings together almost 2000 photos made by football fans at the same time as they were watching last year's World Cup. The images show private spaces, public spaces, pubs, etc. Most were taken inside people's homes. What they show is a communal moment shared by people from Nigeria, Brazil, England.... Smartphones equipped with cameras are now almost ubiquitous, you find them everywhere even in poorer countries and it's that technology that makes it possible to represent this moment shared globally by football fans.

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Teju Cole, Jer Thorp & Mario Klingemann, The Time of the Game - a synchronized global view of the World Cup final

There is also a lot of humor in the show. We sometimes forget that football is fun. During our exchange of emails you mentioned the rather unpleasant coverage that FIFA is having at the moment. Do you think this will somehow reflect on the exhibition? (no need to answer this one if you feel the question is irrelevant)

The National Football Museum is an independent museum that tells the story of football in England from the perspective of the fans. The scrutiny FIFA is coming under is not really a surprise for fans as many have been dissatisfied with the federation for years. And this crisis only highlights the poignancy of a work like The Time of the Game.

The reason for this title is that we are looking for a common ground between art and football. (There aren't many!) But one of them is that both football and art have origins in play, they're both about introducing play into something. And in football, just like in art, it is important sometimes to remember not to take things too seriously.

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Jason Eppink, We Tripped El Hadji Diouf (Yabanjin, Feb 06, 2011 07:46)

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Jason Eppink, We Tripped El Hadji Diouf (Shmorky, Feb 07, 2011 23:17)

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Jason Eppink, We Tripped El Hadji Diouf (Kieselguhr Kid, Feb 06, 2011 06:28)

The Humanoid Soccer Robots?! You're going to show them? a whole team? Will they be playing?

With the art programme, we want to broaden the scope of what the museum displays and collects so we've been developing new collaborations and partnerships for the future. Plymouth University is one of those partners. They are the leader in the UK in humanoid soccer robots and participate to the competition organised by the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA) since 1997. The robots might look a bit basic but the ultimate goal of the competition is to have them challenge a team of human football champions by 2050. This might sound outlandish but if you think about it, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. No one would have imagine it was possible 35 years before the chess match.

For the exhibition, we will have one of the robots on display and the Plymouth robotic team will come and do a demo (no precise date yet.)

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Humanoid robot team made by Plymouth University

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Humanoid robot footballer made by Plymouth University. Image courtesy the National Football Museum

The robot will actually be shown in the same display as Soccket and Leg Shocker. So that's science, art and design, all in the same display. The energy generating ball might look a bit silly but the premise is interesting. Imagine it used in refugee camps for example. Children would play and generate electricity through kinetic action. The third work in the display is Fur's art piece. By new media standards, Leg Shocker is almost an antique. As a museum, we want to be able to collect new media works related to football. As we go along with the art programme, the team here is learning a lot: how to maintain these media works, what role they play as provocative objects, etc.


Fur, Legshocker. Enhanced PlayStation2 Controller, 2002

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Fur, Legshocker. Enhanced PlayStation2 Controller, 2002

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Uncharted Play, Soccket

Could you talk to us about World Scratch day, a series of football-based computing activities aimed at introducing children to code. How does it work? How exactly do kids use football to learn code?

Scratch is a programming language developed by MIT. We used the World Scratch Day to enable visitors and communities to get hands-on with technology and make computer games.

Over the course of the day, 80 children in groups of 6 or 7 came to the museum and were able to create simple animation works related to football, make simple games or work with Sonic Pi software to make their own version of the match of the day theme song. It was like a little hackathon for kinds. Ultimately, what we'd like to do is see groups come and use the museum over the weekends to learn some coding.

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World Scratch Day at NFM. Photo National Football Museum

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World Scratch Day at NFM. Photo National Football Museum

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World Scratch Day at NFM. Photo National Football Museum

Next, i saw that artists are in residency at the NFM. Can you already tell us about their work there? What makes the robot lawnmower an artwork rather than just a robot lawnmower, for example?

We commissioned 4 artistic residencies that enable artists to develop works related to football clubs or to the communities around football. So far, artists were (unsurprisingly) more interested in working with more unusual communities than with football clubs.

Matthew Plummer Fernandez was curious about lawn mowers with computerized systems to design patterns on football pitches. Forest Green FC already has a robotic lawnmower which has its own algorithm for cutting the grass, it 'decides' which areas need to be cut more, which ones need to be cut less. It creates its own version of a field. Matthew wants to understand better the algorithm on board o the lawnmower and then create an online identity for this lawnmower and make it 'the 12th man' of the team.

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Matthew Plummer Fernandez with robot lawnmower. Image courtesy of the National Football Museum

The other residency has Jen Southern and Chris Speed were interested work with Workington Uppies and Downies. Uppies and Downies is an ancient version of football - a game with no rules. Thousands of men try to move the ball in a scrum up the hill or down to the harbour. The artists placed GPS trackers on some of the men and will be making work based on the data obtained.

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

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Uppies and Downies. Image credit ©stuartroyclarke @homesoffootball

Now i'm also curious about your own work at the museum. You head a rather edgy art program in an institution that doesn't usually cater for the traditional art crowd. I think this is a great opportunity you have there! i'm quite jealous. But how do you navigate the desire to show good art and the need to please the 30,000 visitors the museum welcomes each month?

Certain languages, certain conventions are used in established art institutions. At the National Football Museum we have our own etiquette: Interactivity is a given, for example. You can touch things. And the museum is not a white wall space. So the question for me was "How should art fit into this environment?" The challenge here is to exhibit art in a way that is sensitive to both the work and the environment.

The National Football Museum has some challenging displays such as one dedicated to the weapons of hooligans, or football disasters. It also raises critical questions, like the Football Association ban of women playing football on its premises until 1971.

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Hooligan knives at the NFM. Photo by Zachary Kaplan

There is sometimes this assumption that making bold statements in an art museum context is going to have a huge impact but often artists are just making a gestures to people already informed about the issue they're trying to address. Basically, the established art community is often just talking to itself. The National Football Museum, I feel belongs more to the public realm and the works in the show have the potential to influence anyone among our visitors, not just a self-selected audience.

Thanks John!

Out of Play opens on 19 June at the National Football Museum, Manchester, UK. It remains open until 19 July 2015.

A tour of Internet Yami-ichi, the offline Internet flea market

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Jasna Veličkovic performing live at Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

Internet Yami-ichi (japanese for Black Market) is a flea market where people sell Internet-ish things face to face.

The last edition of the market took place in Amsterdam on 9 and 10 May. More precisely at the Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond, a (vast) space dedicated to promoting and showcasing contemporary art productions from Flanders. Any kind of art and with an emphasis on innovation, cross-over, interdisciplinarity, and artistic guts. Some of their events are in dutch but a big part of their programme caters for the international audience. I've only been to De Brakke Grond twice but what i've seen so far was critical, witty and resolutely embedded into contemporary culture.

The goods on sale at Yami-ichi were both smart and silly. I bought a little mirror to stick on a phone and observe/photograph scenes and people i wouldn't normally dare to watch openly (i'm not one to take the metro and ignore fellow travelers), all sorts of things made or baked to the glory of internet memes and a fabric patch with a glue gun sewn on it. And some mystery eggs. One thrown in a plastic container by JODI, the other enclosing the url of a Fresh Unpopular Video. I was also made a member of the institutions of Resolution Disputes, participated in a 'hate mail writing' workshop and got myself (fake)photographed in the company of Stefan Simchowitz (whom ignorant me had never heard about before.)

Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market is not just a place to throw your wallet around. I quickly found out that it also offers a great opportunity to meet people who are interested in art&tech, hacking, and contemporary culture in general. Artists, designers, art students and hackers were selling objects, offering food and DIY workshop, participating to hilarious performances (singing a cappella the sound of dial-up internet, for example.) And pretty much anyone who's someone in art&tech (whatever that means) had made the trip from Eindhoven, Amsterdam, Brussels or Rotterdam to 'browse' around. It was internet but in the flesh. I didn't count the number of visitors but De Brakke Grond did. Apparently, over 1900 visitors turned up over the Yami-ichi weekend! 'Zeer succesvolle editie'!

All of the above would probably make more sense if i actually showed some images from the event and commented them briefly. There you are:


Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market, 9 & 10 May 2015 at de Brakke Grond, Amsterdam

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The IP addresses of the websites were associated with geographical coordinates using an OS database. The closest images associated with the location were then retrieved through Panoramio and turned into postcards. By Julie Boschat Thorez

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All you had to do was bring your own food and the lightbox turned it into instagrammable foodporn

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Wikilinks, a kit for the conspiration-obsessed

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Corrupted files (for your nails)


And i got one of these Radical Perspective Changers by Sander Veenhof

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I LOVED those ceramic memes. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Tijmen Schep was selling Crypto fries (Patatje Crypto) at the Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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YouCube, a free stage box for live, open mic performances. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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People reading the CRYPTODESIGN brochure. The publication announced the Crypto Design Challenge, an open call to young designers and artists in the Netherlands and Belgium to submit plans and proposals to make the encryption of digital images and information accessible to all. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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A 3D print on demand stall. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Julie Scheurweghs was selling some vegan Meme Cookies. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age was selling some their amazing publications and handing over surprise eggs containing url to overlooked videos

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Faithfull Enemy, a Hate Mail workshop led by the brilliant Iffy Iemand and Ksusha Holmes

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Visors to change the shape of your face when caught on CCTV. On the bottom right corner are some paper pop ups

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Rosa Menkman, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]. Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Rosa Menkman's mother was kindly sewing on my sweatshirt a patch of the institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD]

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iRD Patch, Institutions key, 2015. Image via the creatorsproject

By the way, institutions of Resolution Disputes [iRD] was one of my favourite projects at the market. It's far brainier than the other pieces sold/exhibited and hopefully i'll find a moment to come back to it in a later post. But in the meantime (and if i don't come back to the work on the blog), do check out this interview that Daniel Rourke did with Rosa Menkman for Furtherfield.

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Free Safari tours! Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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This one might not look like much but it is a brilliant work and i need to track down the artists (they are there, somewhere in the grubby notes i took down) before i can write a proper post about the piece. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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Internet Yami-ichi / Black Market. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg

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More photos? Check out the ones taken by Sebastiaan ter Burg and mine.