Category Archives: ghosts

Share festival. Calling forth the ghosts of technology

The first few words i read on the leaflet of the Share Festival, the annual event of contemporary tech art and science in Turin, sum up so poetically the way i see the city:

Share Festival XIV, GHOSTS, is worldly by being otherwordly, is Turinese by being international, touches the heart of the matter by embracing the skin, is futuristic by being historical, is visible through the invisible, spoken through the unspeakable and alive through the spirits of the dead.

Well, that certainly beats the very cheesy title i had originally selected for my review of the festival exhibition (The Share festival. Or how to put spirits into the spirit of innovation)!

While Turin is famous -at least in Italy- for its innovations and manufacturing energy, it is also said to be the only city that is part of both the triangle of White Magic and the triangle of the Black Magic. This year the Share Festival played with this enigmatic identity and chose Ghosts as its main theme.

The works exhibited over the course of a long weekend in Turin called forth all the Ghosts of technologies and human memories.

There were 6 works in the show, each of them shortlisted for the Share Prize, each radically different from the others. Taken together though these artworks offered a compact, coherent and enchanting perspective on a technologically-mediated world in which the rational constantly contend with the paranormal and the superstitious.

Below are the 4 works i found most fascinating:
Starting with the ghost of a bird hunted to extinction….


Sally Ann McIntyre, Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded), 2015. Image courtesy of the Share festival

Sally Ann McIntyre, Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded), 2015

The Huia is an extinct species of wattle bird from New Zealand. The male and the female had differently shaped bills. They worked together to feed on wood-burrowing larvae, the male chiseling the bark from trees, while the female removed exposed grubs with her long, curved beak. The arrival of European settlers led to the loss of their habitat through deforestation, the introduction of new predators and the mass killing of the birds in 1901 when their feathers sparked a fashion craze on the old continent. The last officially recorded Huia was seen in 1907.

There is no direct recording of their songs. However, in 1949, a farmer named Robert Batley asked Henare Hāmana, a local Māori who used to lure huia by imitating their call, to accompany him to Wellington and record his imitation of the bird on a disc.

Sally Ann McIntyre‘s Collected Huia Notations (like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded) calls forth the ghost of the lost bird.

She first asked Pascal Harris in Dunedin, New Zealand, to play on the piano the four known Western musical notations of the song of the Huia. The sounds were then inscribed onto phonograp wax cylinder by Graham McDonald of the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra. The artist chose the piano because it was a musical instrument found in most domestic houses in colonial New Zealand and the wax cylinders because they were the only commercially available sound recording technology available while the Huia was still alive. During the exhibitions of the work, the sounds are played on an Edison Gem phonograph, launched on the market in 1899 for domestic use.

However, the wax cylinders are so fragile that each playback is a small erosion of the recording, suggesting that the bird will continue to escape from our understanding with each attempt to retain the memory of its existence.

It is hard not to see in this work an allusion to the 1,200 animal species which, scientists warn, “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention.


Casey Reas, The Untitled Film Stills. Image courtesy of the Share festival


Casey Reas, The Untitled Film Stills. Image courtesy of the Share festival

The Untitled Film Stills is part of Compressed Cinema, a body of work in which Casey Reas uses generative adversarial networks (GANs.) GANs are a type of machine learning systems in which two neural networks contend with each other and generate images indistinguishable from photography.

The artist reinserts a certain level of human agency and creative control into the mechanism by selecting the images GANs trains on. Instead of employing the technology to create realistic images, Reas thus deviates it from its main function, stretches GANs creative potential even further and explores its ability to produce uncanny images.

Each image in The Untitled Film Stills series appears grainy and a bit blurry, as if it were a frame from an imagined film that might have been rescued from the past.


Sophie Kahn, Machine for Suffering. Image courtesy of the Share festival


Sophie Kahn, Machine for Suffering


Sophie Kahn, Machine for Suffering

Sophie Kahn’s work explores how science and technology scrutinize and eventually misinterpret the human body.

The artist uses a laser scanner to captures performers reenacting poses from photos that were developed to diagnose and record hysteria in the 19th Century. Neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was then studying hysteria with the help of anatomical artist Paul Richer at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. Together, they elaborated charts and images documenting the physical poses they regarded as “typical” of the various phases of an attack of hysteria. Photography was their medium of choice, even though photos could obviously not capture the underlying psychological cause(s) of what ailed their patients. Interestingly, hysteria was a psychiatric diagnosis that, at the time, was applied largely to women. Just like today the adjective “hysterical” is almost consistently used to describe women who dare to express themselves with a bit of anger or passion.


Image from Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière, 1876-80


Sophie Kahn, Machine for Suffering. Image courtesy of the Share festival

Similarly to what happened in the 19th Century with photography, the 3D technology Kahn is using today fails to adequately capture its human subjects. Since the scanners aren’t designed to handle movements, let alone emotions, they get confused by the ever-changing spatial coordinates and turn the female bodies into glitchy shells that the artist paints, sands, glues and props up with scaffolding.

Her Machines for Suffering look like bodies that had been broken down then hastily pieced back together.


Fanni Dada, Segnali dal futuro. Image courtesy of the Share festival


Fanni Dada, Segnali dal futuro. Image courtesy of the Share festival


Fanni Dada, Segnali dal futuro. Image courtesy of the artists

Segnali dal futuro, by the Italian duo Fanni Dada, evokes a future that comes back to haunt us. This might sound paradoxical but some of the most worrying characteristics of our epoch (from man’s capacity to destroy himself with the technology he creates to the mass extinction of sepecies) were described with disturbing accuracy in the works of J. G. Ballard and Aurelio Peccei. I’m not going to insult you by giving you a bio of the iconic science fiction writer but Peccei might need a few lines of intro.

Peccei, born in Turin (a great place to be as the whole team of the Share festival and i will tell you), was the co-founder with Alexander King of the Club of Rome, an international group of people from the fields of academia, civil society, diplomacy and industry who met to reflect on the interconnectedness of a series of issues that, until then, had been examined separately and in a short-term framing: environmental deterioration, the depletion of natural resources, poverty, endemic ill-health, criminality, etc. Their conclusions, published in 1972 under the title The Limits to Growth, suggested that economic growth could not continue indefinitely if humanity continued plundering resources as it was already doing. Many of their concerns and recommendations feel painfully prescient today. And almost 50 years after their first meeting in Rome, it appears that we’re still governed by the same irresponsible mechanisms and ideologies.

Visitors of the festival were invited to place their hands on the copper plates connected to the electrical impulses of the installation video signals. This simple gesture seemed to conjure the spirits of the two forward-thinking figures. Like in a séance, their faces appeared to urge us to reflect on the kind of future we’ve already wasted and the future we might still hope for today.

Well, we didn’t listen to scientists, artists and philosophers then and we still foolishly ignore their warnings now. It doesn’t sound so far-fetched to ask ghosts to shake us our of lethargy and complacency.

The jury for the SHARE Prize was composed by Andrea Griva from the School of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, artist Lia; curator and art critic Domenico Quaranta; writer, activist and Share Prize curator Jasmina Tesanovic and science-fiction author and Share Festival artistic director Bruce Sterling.

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain

While in Paris a few weeks ago, i visited Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, an exhibition at La Gaîté Lyrique that explores the interweaving of the technological and the uncanny.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. View of the exhibition space at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Karolina Sobecka, All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Nils Völker, Seventeen, 2016. Extra Fantômes, exhibition view. Photo © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous

I thought it would be a light and amusing way to fill a rainy afternoon. And amusing it certainly was. At least at the start of the exhibition, when you find yourself plunged inside dark spaces and Lynch-inspired red room dedicated to the occult. There is a Oui Ja table, a mirror haunted by animals, a phone that puts you in contact with ghosts, a clique of translucent cushions that breathe over your heads. But the exhibition goes way beyond the mystical and the supernatural…

In a world where scientific rationalism rules, interest is on the rise for alternative forms of relating to the world and to others.

The exponential development of technology is paradoxically a time there is a surge in attention and demand for magical, unexplained and mythological phenomena.

After the first two rooms of fun and phantasms, the ride gets darker and the paranormal gets worryingly normal. The specters, spirits and impersonators become pervasive, intrusive, you can ignore them if you so wish but you can’t hide from them. They are made of the data we generate. They are our disembodied doppelgängers, our digital shadow and they relentlessly shed information about our opinions, routines, sexual preferences and working habits. Unsurprisingly, these last few rooms were the ones where i spent the longest time.

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Extra Fantômes. View of the exhibition space at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The first one presents itself like a Control Room that enables the visitors to discover the immaterial energies and invisible forces that inhabit the same spaces as us. These forces are not esoteric anymore. They are real, they are the ones that inevitably accompany our technology-mediated existence.

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onformative, Google Faces, 2013

onformative, Google Faces – Google Earth Flight Animation

Google Faces was my favourite piece in the room because of the way it ties up the uncanny atmosphere of the previous rooms with the reality of the current technological world.

Google Faces tirelessly travels through Google Maps’s satellite images and uses a face detection algorithm to detect portraits hidden in the topography of our planet. The images would look nothing like faces were it not for pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of a face, animal, object, message or other where none actually exists. “Unprejudiced” technology meets human subjectivity.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Tobias Zimmer and David Ebner, Database, 2014. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The cameras of the Database installation record the faces of visitors as they enter the room, a recognition algorithm analyzes them and the resulting data is sent to a printer, which automatically prints the little portraits along with data about the time of the visitor’s passage in the gallery. The process is super fast. Every hour though, the intrusive work acknowledges the right to privacy by blending all the faces into a composite portrait and displaying it on the installation’s website, while all other digital records are deleted. As for the ridiculously voluminous prints, they get shredded.

Database publicly documents the nuts and bolts of facial recognition—which governments and large corporations keep behind closed doors—and also refuses to catalog or monetize the information accumulation, in stark contrast with other entities that collect big data.

Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie, 2007

In Semiconductor’s Magnetic Movie, physicists from NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley describe their experiments about magnetic fields while images visualize this invisible phenomenon in the form of hectic, ever-changing geometries.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The last room in the exhibition bears the inauspicious title of ‘the Bunker.’ There’s nothing oppressive about it though. The space is filled with ideas and strategies deployed by artists to fight back against data collecting, machine scrutiny and other forms of control. They make us disappear and even turn us into ghosts in the eyes of the machines.

There’s a very straightforward way to make yourself untraceable. Head over to the website of LessEMF and get a maternity camisole, sleeping bag or poncho that will protect you from electro-magnetic fields. My personal choice would be this fetching upper body shield which might come in handy next time i fancy a bit of jousting.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

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Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

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Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

Adam Harvey designed a range of fashionable thermal evasion garments that protect their wearer from the eyes of the drones and other heat sensing machines.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The artist and researcher is also famous for CV Dazzle, a sly make up and hair fashion technique that covers the face with bold patterns. By breaking apart the expected features targeted by computer vision algorithms, CV Dazzle makes you immune to CCTV scrutiny.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible

Finally, Heather Dewey-Hagborg has been exploring the next frontier in surveillance: biological surveillance. Her Invisible kit ensure your genetic privacy by obliterating any DNA trace you leave behind.

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Catalogue Extra Fantômes

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Catalogue Extra Fantômes

The catalogue of the exhibition is published by Gaîté Éditions and Lienart. It contains plenty of great essays by the like of James Bridle, Finn Brunton, Vinciane Despret, Marie Lechner, Elliot Woods (Kimchi and Chips), Mushon Zer-Aviv, etc. Only available in french, i’m afraid.

More images from the exhibition:

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Karolina Sobecka, All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous


Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

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Malte Martin, Spectres, 2014

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain was curated by Daily tous les jours. The show remains open at Gaîté Lyrique in Paris until July 31rst 2016.