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“Universalization is a colonialist heritage.” An interview with video game curator Isabelle Arvers

Isabelle Arvers is a curator, art critic and artist specialized in independent video games. She is also the Director of Kareron, a non-profit organization that supports artistic and educational projects in the fields of art, digital creation and video games.

Momo Pixel, Hair Nah (photo)

Georgie Roxby Smith, 99 Problems [WASTED], GTAV intervention, 2014

To celebrate her 20 years as curator in the fields of art and video games, Isabelle Arvers is about to embark on a world tour that will take her to over 15 countries, each of them “outside the American and European beaten paths”. She’s planning to meet digital artists and independent developers and come back with a richer, non Western-centric and more nuanced overview of the different ways gaming communities across the world are exploring the issue of diversity, with a special emphasis on the female, queer and decolonial practices.

Her expedition will also investigate how we can create new concepts of “working together” and new connections within the worlds of game art, independent games, games DIY art in non-Western countries.

Isabelle Arvers

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that it’s the third time i’m interviewing Isabelle Arvers. Simply because she’s smart, genuinely passionate and an expert in everything art & games. There will also be a fourth interview obviously. As soon as she’s back from her Art Games World Tour, i’ll be waiting for her to tell us what and who she’s discovered in Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Colombia, Argentina, Lebanon, Egypt, etc.

Hi Isabelle! Let’s start with what has been the biggest surprise for me when i was reading the programme of the Art+Games WorldTour. You’ve been a curator in the fields of art and video games for 20 years!?? You must have been one of the pioneers in that profession at the time. How did you realize that was what you’d want to dedicate your energy and mind to? 

It came from a discussion I had with teenagers in the 90′, telling me that they were dreaming in video games and that they loved so much video games images that they would have preferred to see them on TV. It made me realize the power of games on our imagination and their capacity to manipulate people’s mind. I decided that games were a very serious question and that we – cultural producers, curators, intellectuals – had to pay attention to it. That’s why I decided to offer an alternative to AAA – big commercial – games and to promote alternative and artistic uses of video games and to distribute other types of games, games done by artists but not only, also what we now call experimental games, creative or indie games. 

In 1999, I was working as a partnership manager for Art 3000, a non profit organization which was organizing the General Meetings of Interactive Writing. I selected an interactive graphic and music table created by Andre Ktori (Founder of the sound music collective Audiorom in London), as well as 2 PC games. One was a pervasive game In Memoriam by Eric Viennot (edited in 2003 by Ubisoft) and the second game, Isabelle by Thomas Cheysson, was a game using Artificial Intelligence.

The year after, I was in charge of the image and computer games content for an online gallery – Gizmoland – where we were selling music, games, digital art, and animation, only by downloads. My job consisted in persuading game companies, little independent game studios to sell their games online, which at that time wasn’t their business model at all!! The year after, I curated my first big exhibition in a huge “physical” space. It was the gaming room of Villette Numerique: Playtime (2002) – combining 30 years of computer games history, games created by artists and sound games in an online gallery.

For this exhibition I was inspired by the exhibition Let’s Entertain curated by Philippe Vergne at the Walker Art Center which was investigating what cultural industries had to learn from super attractive big malls. The same year, the exhibition “Game On” was hosted at the Barbican Center in London. Playtime is the true beginning of what would become my main practice: mixing the art and the game world with other disciplines: music, dance, online performances and break mind and cultural ghettos. Last December, as I had to leave my house, cleaning and ordering my archives, I realized that 20 had passed and I felt a huge need to renew my practice

Nomada Studio, Gris

How has the profession evolved over time? Do you find, for example, that you can now present yourself as a curator in the fields of art and video games and that people understand immediately what you do (both in France and in other countries)? That some circles take art and video game more seriously than 20 years ago?  

The profession evolved a lot as there are now Curatorial studies as well as games studies. There are academic studies on games as an art form and the art world is paying more attention to games both as a medium or as an art form. In France, what is funny is that games became interesting for cultural structures through the prism of cultural heritage and preservation and thanks to serious games. Then the growing benefits from the game industry made the rest! But the particularity of my work consists in the meeting between different artistic disciplines and universes and when you want to cross cultural ghettos it still remains a bit suspicious, both from the art side than from the game world. However, artists and game designers are more and more using the same tools or software, the language/vocabulary/objectives are still different, but we can create the encounter and break the last walls remaining between art + games and indie games events.

In other countries the contexts are slightly different depending on which countries we are talking about. Cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York mix art and games. I wrote a report about my last trip in New York and what was the state of the art+ games world there in 2017.

In Brazil, connections between the art world and the game world also exist, with a strong tradition of promoting interactivity in big events like File. Last year, I organized a special edition of Art Games Demos in Medellin and it was quite hard to find artists working with videogames as a medium or even referring to computer games. We discussed it with the artist Miltos Manetas who now lives in Bogota and he told me that Colombia was “Pre-Internet and computer games”. The indie games scene is more developed, but there is a huge interest for it in Universities or in the art schools where I gave talks about the art + games relationship. The same in Egypt, where I gave machinima workshops with the artist Ahmed El Shaer to most of the times women students.

Students and artists are often really interested by game engines as a medium. There is just a need to show that games can be used in art schools to create hybrid artworks and push the creation in that direction. In the case of Egypt, what local structures also told me is that they need permanent spaces to learn and practice, not only temporary workshops, without an access to mentoring after these workshops. On the indie game world, the easiest access to open game engines, the dematerialization of games platform, the game jams and indie meetups opened the doors to more creative and diverse videogames.

Isabelle Arvers, Art Games Demos at La Jaquer EsCool in Medellin

I love that Sébastien Acker has described you as an “Activist of an art that is emancipated from the international majors of the genre.” Can you tell me something about this type of video games? Is it just a question of being less professional or having less money than the majors? Or is more a question of content, audacity and creativity that make this type of video game so fascinating to you and their public? 

In 2011, I presented the Pirate Kart at the Art Gallery of The Aix en Provence Art School invited by the Festival Gamerz. The Pirate Kart is a compilation of 1005 games created by 378 developers: an indie games presentation and experimentation inside a game art festival intended to show the mind-blowing evolution of game creation in the indie games scene, and to show the diversity and the originality of these games, quite different from the AAA games but which need to be considered as well. This compilation was made possible by Mike Meyer, a game developer in Florida, and to quote his reference to the Scratchware manifesto:”It is time for revolution. Walk into your local bookstore; you’ll find tens of thousands of titles. Walk into your local record store; you’ll find thousands of albums. Walk into your local software store; you’ll find perhaps 40 games. Yet thousands of games are released each year.” Wikipedia defines a scratchware as “If a game has original content, offers great gameplay and replayability, has a professional look, is bug free, costs $25 or less for the complete program, and was made by three people or less, it is scratchware.”

We need to show these games and give an alternative to the traditional places of games distribution. We need to give exposure and to promote these games, because they also represent the state of the art of today games production. For me, it doesn’t mean that they are less professional, but ten thousand times more diverse in terms of representation, aesthetics, concepts and messages. As Anna Anthropy urges in her book Rise of the Videogames Zinesters: everybody should create games to enhance diversity of aesthetics and subjects, indeed, she recently published Make your own Twine Games in March 2019 and “Make your own Scratch Games” which will be published in July 2019.

David OReilly, Everything (Gameplay Film)

Penumbra Black Plague in-game screenshot

Concrete Games, Matter (PC Trailer)

I used to discover a lot of video games ideas and talents through the game section you used to curate for the GAMERZ festival in Aix-en-Provence. It always allowed me to catch up with an art form i’m not so versed into. Which works or creators would you recommend are worth looking at at the moment? 

I went to an amazing festival in Netherlands, The Overkill Festival in 2018, invited to curate a machinima exhibition dedicated to Immortality. I was extremely lucky to meet Robin Baumgarten and his quantic inspired games as well as Alistair Hutchinson and his interactive theater play. I would also recommend to go on where you can discover a great amount of indie games online. Oujevipo, the website created by Pierre Corbinais is also a fantastic resource to discover short games. I am currently preparing a workshop for ISEA 2019 in South Korea untitled Games as lights and colors on canvas for which I selected games focusing on light and darkness and had the pleasure to play to Reflections by Broken Window Studios, as well as Penumbra by Frictional Games or Matter by Concrete Games. Each of them presents a different type of gameplay and pretty different aesthetics. Otherwise my last preferred games are Everything by David O’Reilly, or Hair Nah by Momo Pixel.

Pierre Corbinais, Bury Me, My Love

Lucas Pope, Papers, Please

Molle Industria, Nova Alea gameplay

Then, it is hard to speak about all the games we had the pleasure to present during the 6 editions of Art Games Demos we curated with Chloé Desmoineaux. Some of them were thematized on queer and feminism, others on borders and migration or on the city, generative city, utopic city… Enterre moi mon amour is a mobile game created by Pierre Corbinais in which you discuss with a Syrian migrant, in the game Papers, Please by Lucas Pope you play a guard at the border of a fictious state, Nova Alea, a game about gentrification made by Paolo Pedercini from Molle Industria is also amazing, The game The Game, a game about sexual harassment by Angela Washko looks more like an interactive fiction. Lately I found beautiful the game Gris by the Spanish studio Nomada Studio and I discovered yesterday the game What Remains by Aymeric Mansoux, “an 8-bit interactive fiction and adventure video game by Aymeric Mansoux about environmental issues, the manipulation of public opinion, and whistleblowing».

Aymeric Mansoux, What Remains, 2019

Aymeric Mansoux, What Remains, 2019

Angela Washko, The game The Game

Angela Washko, The game The Game

The Art+Games WorldTour you are about to embark on looks very ambitious: you’ll be spending several months traveling, meeting, discovering, working in very different cultures. How much of what you will be doing once over there will rely on preparation and existing contacts and how much on pure chance and improvisation?  

I decided for this World Tour to discover art and games scenes I do not know already. The only places where I already went to are Brazil and Colombia, where I do have some contacts now and where they are people I love and want to see again. For the other countries I will travel to – South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, India, Argentina and Mexico which are the first steps of my trip in 2019 before I go to Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Middle East countries in 2020, I mostly rely on friends’ contacts and on my online researches, before my departure. My main fear is that people won’t have the desire or the time to meet me, because I won’t stay very long in each country, so it might be difficult to be at the right time at the right moment. People are not waiting for me and that’s totally understandable. To give you an idea, for my first step in South Korea, I think that I sent more than 60 emails and only got 6 replies. Hopefully, thanks to IRL meetings, it will open the doors to other contacts and meetings. That’s totally part of the game. I know it will be hard, a mix of fear and excitement. Like when you learn how to play a game: big and numerous failures, for few little successes! For this world tour, I am asking support from women in games – I just partnered with Women in Games – LGBTQI networks in art, DIY and feminist networks as well as from the game art network or the indie game scene. Let’s hope I will be lucky. And that the communities will support me by giving me more contacts.

Art Games Demos, Une Quinzaine de Féminisme(s), 2017

What make the Art+Games World Tour project so interesting is that it is looking at the diversity of video game, trying to give more visibility to the female, queer and decolonial practices and works. I’m particularly curious about the decolonial practices. Could you give some examples of them?  

I think that games are a good reflection of our surrounding world, they can give us a good overview of our current society, they are also a perfect medium to talk about games and the game industry. In 2011, I curated a machinima exhibition on feminism and on player’s freedom inside a videogame. I showed the work of Angela Washko and Georgies Roxbie Smith, both renowned for their feminist actions inside WOW or GTA Online. Some years after, we curated an Art Games Demos on queer and feminist movements in videogames during The feminist fortnight in Marseille. A way for us to raise awareness on sexism in the videogames industry and community. Women are still underrepresented in the industry and even if things changed a lot after the Gamergate in the US, there is still a need to change the representation of women in videogames and to give more attention to games created by women or trans persons. In western countries, there is a quite new consciousness about it, with conferences on diversity in events like the Game Developers Conference or at Amaze, but I am really interested to discover and meet other feminists in the non western world as well as LGBTQI organizations around the world in order to connect with other realities and create new paths and connections between networks.

I worked a lot abroad but it was a “western” abroad: I mostly worked in the US, in Europe, in Canada and in Australia. Western and white…

There is a strong network for our practices in the western world, but diversity is a very recent concept in these worlds. It is great to feel that recently it even became a new “trend”, a “tendency”, people even mentioned feminism or diversity as a new “fashion”… Interesting but dangerous when you see the power of evangelism growing in countries like Brasil, USA or South Korea as well as abortion bans around the world. Our emancipation is still young and might be weak so we need to defend it and to connect around the world.

Trying to promote decolonial practices is something very important when you think about games as a globalized culture. When I traveled to Brazil or Egypt to give machinima workshops, I was surprised to discover that youngsters were all playing to the same games: GTA, FIFA, Call of Duty, Fortnite, etc… even if the local culture was powerful. In my workshops, I tried to push youngsters to play Indie Games or games related to their local culture, but it appeared as less fascinating to them… less “beautiful”. It made me realize that we almost play the same games everywhere, which mean that the moral, ethics, concepts of these games are globalized. So, are they universal? Not at all.

Universalization is a colonialist heritage. I want to decentralize my point of view. I want to go against my own beliefs and mind constructions. I want to better understand the counter forces to the capitalist model. How can we put the idea of commons in this? The first thing I know is that I don’t know anything, I am not traveling with prior ideas in my mind, as I truly don’t know the situation where I am going to travel, but I know where I come from and the possible damages of what we call good intentions. So my first aim is to learn, learn from the others and discover other ways of working together.

Lipstrike Chloé Desmoineaux at Art Games Demos in Medellin (photo)

Rehabilitation Game presented by Arango Chavarría, EAFIT Virtual Lab, at Art Games Demos in Medellin (photo)

Noisk8 at Art Games Demos in Medellin (photo)

Art+Games WorldTour is not just looking at games and creators. It is also concerned with innovative and inspiring modes of exchanges and collaborations developed in parts of the world the Western art+game community tends to overlook. Could you already tell us about some of these methods and what we might learn from them?

To give you a concrete example, when I was in Colombia last year in a residency at Platohedro in Medellin (an amazing art and residency space dedicated to feminism, technology and open culture). While I was there, we talked about a European festival that wanted to collaborate with Platohedro. It ended by only inviting a Colombian artist in Europe and paying for his trip, which was felt as a neocolonial attitude and not as a true collaboration.

Georgie Roxby Smith, 99 Problems [WASTED], GTAV intervention, 2014

Introduction by Isabelle Arvers at Art Game Demos in Medellin (photo)

To collaborate is not just a question of an invitation to promote artists or creators outside of their countries… It is more about sharing and mixing practices, intentions, responsibilities and giving back to the people.

Also, during my residency, I wanted to investigate the question of gender racism and meet trans persons while I was there. The community feedback was: what do you do in return for the community? We agreed that I would give a machinima workshop on identity and gender to Mesa Diversa Comuna 4, a LGBTQI organization just before to leave to Bogota. Cultural structures like Platohedro, Moravia, El Museo de Antioquia or El Exploratorio in Medellin work and learn with and from the communities: food, gardening, technology, sustainability, etc. Everyone is a bank of knowledge that needs to be heard and shared. In 2011, I wrote a text about collaboration vs participation for the online Journal Archee dealing with collaborative practice in the artworld, let’s see how this world tour will enrich or modify my thoughts.

When I was hosted in Rural.scapes for my first artist residency in Santa Tereza Fazenda in Brasil by the artists Rachel Rosalen and Rafael Marchetti, I super enjoyed all the collaborations we had with the local communities: children, women, farmers and how the point of the residency was to mix local knowledge and technics with artistic practices, electronics, sound or even games. So I want to focus on this type of practices and attitudes for a field that is globalized and still dominated by capitalism and mind gentrification to quote the amazing book by Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind. Then, for this world tour, I partnered with Mehdi Derfoufi, a specialist of post colonial cinema and games studies, who offered me to analyze and apply a postcolonial approach to the games I will find and meet on my road. I will also keep a travelogue/logbook of my feelings and thoughts about this particular and very personal research and quest. These notes will be published monthly on the website of the French journal Immersion.

Thanks Isabelle!

Previously: Games Reflexions, Machinimas at the GAMERZ festival, 8 Bit Movie – Some fast and messy notes.

An interview with Swaantje Güntzel, the artist who throws plastic trash back into our faces

According to the World Bank‘s latest estimates, the world generates (and often poorly manages) 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, 12 percent of it being plastic. A third of that plastic finds its way into fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.

Plastic debris now aggregates in gigantic floating landfills in oceans and endangers wildlife. Turtles ingest plastic bags and balloons, tiny fragments carpet the sea bed while chemical additives used in plastics even ends up in birds’ eggs in High Arctic. We’ve all read about this kind of stories, just as we’ve heard about the small gestures we should adopt to curb plastic waste. Yet, the growth of the plastic tide looks unstoppable.

Swaantje Güntzel, Hotel Pool, Intervention, 2016. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Scheibe & Güntzel, PLASTISPHERE Portrait. Photo by Scheibe & Güntzel

Swaantje Güntzel, an artist with a background in Anthropology, has long been investigating our conflicted relationship with waste. Her work forces us to confront the dramatic consequences that trash pollution is having all over the world, from our city streets to the wildlife living at the other end of the world. Using aesthetics, provocation and humour, she lays bare the interdependence between our daily consumer choices, tepid reactions to environmental urgencies and fragile ecosystems.

Her strategies to spur us into action are many. She exhibits porcelains, photos, embroideries and sculptures inside galleries of course. But she also goes into the streets and infuriates passersby with her public performances. Some of her interventions involve the conspicuous “relocation” in touristic areas and fjords of trash dumped by absent-minded citizens. Others see her placing underneath public park benches sound devices playing a series of sounds generated by humans underwater, the kind of noises we never talk about but that nevertheless deeply disturbs wildlife swimming and living in the North and Baltic Sea, Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.

Swaantje Güntzel, Offshore (detail), 2015, sound intervention, ARTweek Aabenraa, Denmark, Rosegarden

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, intervention excavator 1 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Many of her works involve collaborations. Often with artist Jan Philip Scheibe but also with activists, researchers or even employees in a recycling plant. She lent some of her ideas and talent to environmental organizations such as Ocean Now in order to create campaigns that show her own face (and even, in the last iteration of the campaign, the faces of famous German public figures) covered in microplastics collected on beaches across the world. She also regularly collaborates with scientists in order to ground her artworks in robust facts or get help gathering plastic toys trapped inside the digestive system of sea birds. Last year, she even spent a couple of weeks on the huge scrapyard near Stuttgart to understand the whole process that keeps raw materials inside a closed recycling loop.

Ocean Now is currently using Swaantje Güntzel’s artwork “Microplastics II” for its In Your Face project, part of their campaign “Microplastics in Cosmetics and Cleaning Products”. Photo by Helen Schroeter

Swaantje Güntzel, MIKROPLASTIK II, 2016. Photo: Henriette Pogoda

I discovered her practice through the artworks series that explores the plastic invasion of our daily lives and oceans but our online discussions also brought us to discuss excavator choreographies on scrapyards and how to stay sane when the world around you is sinking under piles of garbage.

Swaantje Guntzel & Jan Philip Scheibe, PLASTISPHERE/Promenade Thessaloniki Performance, 17 March 2016, Thessaloniki, Greece

Hi Swaantje! I was very moved by PLASTISPHERE/Promenade Thessaloniki when I first read about it. It makes visible, in the most shocking way, how careless we are in our daily life when it comes to plastic trash, even when we are in the proximity of the sea or of a park. And even though we’re all aware of the problem by now. How did passersby react to your gestures of throwing plastic back into the urban environment? Did they get angry at you?

What you see in the video is not the whole truth because it was impossible to cover every reaction. In performance art you have to decide whether you focus on the performance or on the documentation because as soon as people see there’s someone filming or taking pictures around, they immediately think this is not serious and will refrain from intervening. We thus had to ask the filmmaker to stay away and try to be invisible as much as he could. Several moments in the performance were even stronger than the ones you can see in the video. For example, when we started the performance, after some 10 meters as I had just begun to throw out the garbage, a guy on a bike stopped and spat at me. His spit was all over my dress. He didn’t even ask what was going on. Further on, we had people yelling and shouting at us. The old woman in the video wasn’t just slapping me, she was hitting me hard. And she wasn’t the only one. There’s also this guy at the end of the video whom we later discovered was part of far right group The Golden Dawn. If it hadn’t been for the curator who was running behind and trying to explain what we were doing, I think he would have beaten us up.

Scheibe & Güntzel, PLASTISPHERE Promenade, 2016, Thessaloniki. Photo by Giorgos Kogias

Collecting garbage at Galerius Palace Thessaloniki, 2016. Photo by Giorgos Kogias

Did people get angry like this everywhere you presented the performance?

Yes, people react that way pretty much everywhere we go.

Lately, I’ve been wondering why people get so worked up. They don’t get angry when they see people dropping garbage or when they see trash in the street. They only get so worked up when they see somebody doing it in such a condensed and obvious way. I find it a bit hypocritical.

The funny thing is that I’m only relocating that garbage. We always start by picking up the trash we find laying around the city. In the case of Thessaloniki, we picked it up at a nearby archaeological site. The site is inside the pedestrian area. You can get a ticket, enter and visit the site. Yet, people who walk by still throw their wrappings onto the archaeological site.

In the first performance, I was relocating the actual garbage within the site, picking it up in one place and throwing it in another. After that, we took that garbage and moved it three blocks away, on the promenade. Only this time, we were throwing the garbage while riding some kind of bike for tourists.

I think that the outraged reaction has a lot to do with the fact that people don’t like to be confronted with garbage so blatantly. In a way, they know it’s theirs and it’s their responsibility. No matter where you are and who you ask, people seem to believe that garbage in public space is not their fault, that it’s the others who are to blame for its presence.

Public space is a collective space. We should all be responsible for it. Unfortunately, people just don’t want to take responsibility, neither in a personal sense nor in a collective sense. A performance in which we bring the garbage back to them is like a knock on their doors.

On a more abstract level, it has a lot to do with the walls we create around consumerism and in a broader sense around capitalism. When you start to talk about waste and plastic pollution, you have to question your way of life, the whole system of capitalism as well as us, humans. Of course, that’s probably not what is crossing these people’s mind immediately but I think it all comes together to create this strong reaction. And then on a more personal level, I think that a lot of people might be compensating for their daily lack of responsibility towards waste by acting in such a strong way and pretending they care. Because I throw garbage around in such an outrageous way, they suddenly take the role of the “clean up police”. It’s a bit like when you interview passersby on animal well-being, everyone will tell you that of course they’d be ready to pay a bit more if they were sure animals are treated better. The choices they make in their daily life, however, do not necessarily reflect what they say when they are interviewed in public. My work highlights this contradiction between what you do or say in public and what your private behaviour might be.

Scheibe & Güntzel, PLASTISPHERE Galerius Palace Thessaloniki, 2016. Photo by Giorgos Kogias

Do you think part of people’s anger can be explained by the fact that you look like a tourist on that touristic vehicle?

I don’t think so. I was acting in such an exaggerated way, throwing garbage around in broad daylight, in a popular area of the city and dressed in such an extravagant way. It was impossible to take me seriously. It was all staged to look like a performance or maybe an activist action to raise awareness around the waste problem.

Swaantje Güntzel, Portrait at Kaatsch. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Last year you collaborated with the German recycling company Schrott- und Metallhandel M. Kaatsch GmbH in Plochingen as part of the Art Festival DREHMOMENT of KulturRegion Stuttgart in order to follow the route taken by the recycled objects, looking in particular at “the physical and logistical effort required to keep raw materials in a closed cycle of recyclable materials.” I found it interesting that you seemed to have established some relationship with the people working in this recycling company. What role played the relationship you established with them? How long did you stay there by the way?

I produced the actual work in two weeks but the whole relationship started long before that, in January, when we had the first encounter. That’s when I was presented to the company and they had to decide whether or not they wanted to work with me. They were very afraid I would run around their company looking for problems in the way they work. On the one hand, their fear was understandable because so far I had only focused on the damages of consumerism and not on the solutions to it. It took them 3 months to think about it. And it took me a lunch and a lot of wine with the boss of the company to convince him to say yes to the collaboration. But the moment we started to work together, they were incredible. They opened every door for me, they let me do everything I had dreamt of.

The work with the excavator that you can see in the short movie was something I had dreamt of. I never thought they’d allowed me to do that because that would mean slowing down the work process, it would be complicated, require a lot of men power and they’d lose money. And yet, the moment I told them about my idea, they reacted very fast and made it happen.

During my research and over the course of these two weeks last summer when I tried to realise most of the works, I found it very easy to talk to everyone. Later in October, for the opening of the resulting show, I had a conversation with one of the people working there and I almost apologised for being this woman crawling everywhere on their working space, always in the way of the workers on this big scrapyard. But the worker said “No! Not at all! All the women who work here would never come on the scrapyard, they prefer to stay inside the offices but you looked so interested in our work, trying to understand, getting yourself dirty, etc. That was actually very flattering for us.” The people who are in charge of the place also understood the potential of this synergy between the artist and the company and how something completely new could emerge from it. I had warned them that I wanted total freedom, that they couldn’t interfere with the content (unless it was for technical reason) but we never had any situation of tension.

I saw the power of recycling our waste, of keeping the resources in this loop and not lose any of it. It’s the future. They always say that recycling is the 7th resource of the world. Recycling will become an essential resource. Without it, we’ll destroy the planet even sooner than expected.

For me it was a new experience. For once, everybody was so happy about my performances! Although in the end, I think that people getting angry and me being beaten up is part of the solution. It’s one of the puzzle pieces in trying to understand that we are on the wrong track.

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, 2018. Photo by Tobias Hübel

One of the works in the LOOPS series intrigued me. The triptych titled LOOPS / LH 150 E. Did the excavator create these marks?

Yes, you can see the process in the video.

My concept was that I wanted to visualise how much power is in the logistics and in the physical effort you need to keep resources in recycling loops. While doing my research on the scrapyard, I saw the company´s excavators picking up what seemed to be big bundles of steel wires that look like balls of wool but weight tons. The excavators grab these bundles and use them to move the trash from one side to the other. When they’ve finished the work, they use the bundles to clean the spot where they were working. When you see 3 or 4 of these excavators doing it at the same time, it looks like a ballet or a choreography. You can also sense the power. You feel the soil moving and shaking, the air getting very hot and the loud noise. It’s like you’re in a parallel world. I wanted to visualize these movements so I asked if i could drip these bundles into red paint, put the three steel plates on the ground and thus capture these moments.

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, setting the plates, 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, intervention excavator 1 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, steel wire 2, 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, steel wire 1, 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, intervention excavator 1 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

Swaantje Güntzel, LOOPS LH 150 E, finished plates, 2018. Photo by Jan Philip Scheibe

You hold a Masters Degree in Anthropology. How does that background inform and influence your artistic practice?

At the beginning, I didn’t think it would influence my practice. I was actually hiding that fact. When I started studying art, I was already older than the others and I was struggling to find my spot. Especially because I was working on ecological topics that no one really likes. In the first years, I had a hard time defining myself. After 5 or 7 years however, I started to realise that the way I look at the world, the way I work, the way I observe is so linked to my studies in Anthropology that I couldn’t deny this background anymore and that it played a huge part in my artistic practice.

Besides, I have this project series with my boyfriend Jan Philip Scheibe, who is also an artists, where we try and analyse with the instruments from contemporary art how the interaction between people and their surrounding landscape is still visible and how this defined their culture and understanding of nature. How these people trying to be nourished by the surrounding landscape have interacted with it over the course of the past several hundred years. These projects require a lot of research and I’m the one in charge of that before we actually start the work. My technique, my way of researching are linked to that understanding of the world as an anthropologist.

When I work on plastic pollution, I collaborate with many scientists, with marine biologists, with physicians, experts in acoustics, etc. Without this academic background, I would have hesitated a lot before before approaching them and asking them if they were open to collaborating with me.

Swaantje Güntzel, Stomach Contents, 2010. Photo: Swaantje Güntzel

Swaantje Güntzel, Box Set XL, 2018, plastics, wood, glass, 41,3 x 31,5 cm. Photo Tobias Hübel

Swaantje Güntzel, Cigarette lighter R, 2014. Photo by Anne Sundermann

How did you work with these other scientists? Do they play only a consulting role or a more active one?

It depends very much on the project. For example, I worked with marine biologist Dr. Cynthia Vanderlip on a series of projects in which she played an active role. She is the head of Kure Atoll Conservancy, a seabird sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean. She was one of the first scientists I approached in my artistic career because I needed items that had been swallowed by birds in the ocean. She works a lot with Laysan albatrosses that have ingested plastic objects and she agreed in 2009 to provide me with all the materials I needed. She collects the pieces found inside dead birds on that remote Atoll. Now she can’t go to the Atoll anymore but she still directs the team over there and asks them to keep on collecting the objects for me. She answers any question I might have. Her role is thus very active.

With other scientists, it’s more about getting answers to very specific questions.

Last year was the first time I dared to present my work in a scientific conference on microplastics. I had no idea if they would appreciate this kind of presentation or even if it made sense for them to see how artists are working on this topic. From the interested reactions I got after the presentation, it looks like it was the right thing to do.

You’ve worked on the topic of plastic pollution for many years now. How do you see the discussions evolving? It seems to me that on the one hand, awareness has been raised years ago. On the other hand, we’re not making much progress in controlling plastic waste, are we?

I started to work on that topic in a time when nobody really knew about plastic pollution or about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at all in Germany. There were a few scientists in the States who had just named the problem but there was nothing in terms in public awareness. I was so naive at the time. I thought that if I started making the problem visible, an understanding would grow and that over time we would take action. However, I could see that time was passing and that my work kept being labelled in curatorial texts or critical reviews as “raising awareness”. Last year, I started wondering how long we’d need to “raise awareness” before we decide to actually do something. Five years ago or so, people who are in charge started to advise the public on how we could change habits, use as little plastic as possible or put pressure on politicians and on the industry to see changes emerge. But we’ve been stuck in this same movement for such a long time. By now, I think that each of us is aware of the problem and we all agree that plastic doesn’t belong in the environment. And yet, not much has changed.

At the opening of my exhibitions, people view me as a kind of priest and confess their plastic sins to me. They would tell me that they understand the importance of my work, that it’s essential that someone makes the effort but then they’d try and explain me why they can’t make an effort themselves: it takes too much time and too much energy, it’s the industry that should act, people at the other end of the world do worse anyway, etc. Classic whataboutism that doesn’t help us move forward.

It’s the same with climate change, we know we have to do something and yet we stand there. We prefer to blame others, keep our heads in the sand and prolong our way of life.

Swaantje Güntzel, Blowback II, 2015. Photo by HC Gabelgaard

What keeps you motivated and sane? because sometimes when I read how turtles choke on plastic, how microplastics ends up in the food chain and more generally how biodiversity is dying and the climate is warming up, i despair and want to forget about all that.

You have to look at my biography to answer that one. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, a time characterised by what some like to call “eco-pessimism”. As a kid, I was traumatised by what we were doing to this planet. I was a little girl asking adults “Now that you know what we did to the environment, why don’t you change your behaviour?” And I would always get an answer which meaning can be summed up in: “As adults we screwed it up. Now it’s on you to find a solution and save the world.” I was old enough to take their words seriously and I was depressed about the challenge I had to face: saving the world pretty much on my own.

Today’s young people feel the same but at least they have social media to connect and combine their energy and knowledge and turn it into something as powerful as the Fridays for Future movement. Back then however, it wasn’t the case and it’s only recently that I discovered that many people my age had experienced the same depression and sense of helplessness. We did what we could of course. For example, going from door to door asking people to sign petitions against seal slaughtering or collecting money for the local pet shelter. But we felt alone and under so much pressure. At some point, I decided I would leave aside those topics for a while. I went abroad and studied anthropology. Over time however, I realised that both the environmental issues and art were so deep inside of me that I couldn´t ignore it anymore. I decided that art could help me put up with the pressure and feel like I was doing something. It’s not on the level of activism where you have to dedicate your energy to a cause every day, you have to fight and you live with the constant frustration.
Art would allow me to do something but it wouldn’t consume me as much. It’s the only way I found to deal with this global insanity without completely losing it myself.

Thanks Swaantje!

Eric D. Clark, Music producer, DJ. A collaboration between Ocean Now and Swaantje Güntzel’s artwork “Microplastics II” for the In Your Face project, part of Ocean Now campaign “Microplastics in Cosmetics and Cleaning Products” Photo: Saskia Uppenkamp

Swaantje Güntzel has a few exhibitions coming up: she’ll be participating to the Deep Sea group show opening at Ystads Konstmuseum, Sweden, on 1 June 2019. This Summer her work is part of the touring exhibition Examples to follow! Expeditions in aesthetics and sustainability in Erfurt, Germany. She is also preparing, together with Jan Philip Scheibe the work Preserved/Grünkohl opening at DA Kloster Gravenhorst, Germany on 12 July 2019. And of course, her collaboration with Ocean Now is currently taking the streets of Berlin to inform passersby about the urgent need to ban microplastics in cosmetics and cleaning products.

The agony of a life without privacy. Or with too much of it. An interview with Mark Farid

Many artists and activists have worked on projects that denounce the loss of privacy online. Very few, however, have put their social, financial and mental well-being at risk in order to expose the damages of a carefree attitude towards our own digital footprint.

Mark Farid, Seeing I, ongoing

Mark Farid, Data Shadow, 2015

But Mark Farid did just that! Deeply convinced that “online privacy is the only right we have left”, the artist decided to give away his entire digital identity to anyone who’d want it. Back in 2015, he participated to a panel discussion entitled “Data Shadow: Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed” in Cambridge. After a presentation of his practice, Farid surprised the audience by displaying a document listing the login details of all his online accounts and inviting everyone to use them as they pleased. Within minutes, people he didn’t know had changed most of his passwords, from his online banking account to his Apple ID. The accounts were no longer his.

From that moment on, he embarked on a painful adventure: he lived with no digital footprint for 6 months, using multiple pay as you go phones, paying everything in cash, scrambling his IP addresses, etc. The experience was not only costly but it also made his social life ridiculously complicated.

After an experiment that suggested that Farid had something to hide, the artist went back to normal modern life, the one in which most of the exciting things you do is online and promptly turned into sets of data that both governments and corporations can snoop on.

Then came September 2016 when the artist decided time had come to further destroy his online privacy and demonstrate that he had nothing to hide. For a full month, he live streamed his digital footprint. The performance, titled Poisonous Antidote, involved exposing online and in a gallery in London all of his personal and professional emails, all his text messages, phone calls, Facebook Messenger, web browsing, Skype conversations, locations, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as any photographs and videos. The work disclosed his interactions and daily life but it also questioned the assumption that you can fully comprehend a person through only their digital footprint.

Mark Farid, Data Shadow, 2015

I discovered Farid’s work at the Strasbourg Biennale of Contemporary Art, the first edition of an event that invites us to reflect on what it means to be a citizen in the age of hyper-connectivity. The biennale remains open until 3 March. I’d recommend you swing by the charming city to see the exhibition if you’re in the neighbourhood. If not, here’s a transcript of a conversation i had with Farid after i met him in Strasbourg. We talked about the density of our digital footprints, the mental pain of spending months off the digital grid, and his plan to spend 28 days wearing a VR headset to experience the life of another person.

Mark Farid, Poisonous Antidote exhibited at Gazelli Art House in 2016

Hi Mark! Recently, while I was recently visiting the Strasbourg Biennale, i saw the premiere of Poisonous Antidote, a film that you made in collaboration with film-maker Sophie le Roux to reflect on the whole performance. The press kit of the biennale mentions “there was no restriction on the content publicised”. But surely you did censor yourself sometimes, didn’t you?
So were there any self-restrictions?

There was absolutely a degree of self-censorship, and equally, there was absolutely an – arguably greater degree – of performing at the same time.

Poisonous Antidote had two sides to it for me, the first was for the audience: just how intimately you are able to comprehend a person – their humour, temperament and rationale – through only their digital footprint. When you listen to my phone calls with my dad, read my test messages with a girl I was seeing at the time, see what I was searching and where I have been going – very quickly, you really do start to get a very good idea of who I am.

The other side of it was more personal, it was for me to see to what degree knowing that everything I was doing was digitally documented forced me to see, and judge myself objectively. This of course resulted in self-censorship – limiting what I would search, what I would say to people, and most – how I would interact with people. I wouldn’t lose my temper, for example, except for once, at my dad, which is in the film.

It also resulted in ‘performing’ – I went on holiday with my dad for the first time in seven years during that month. I visited Leicester, where my parents live, three times that month, when normally I go back home once every three months. It also meant that I was going to lots of museums and galleries, going on walks and reading a broad range of things online instead of predominantly reading about football; I was trying to look like an interesting cool artist who does what a cultured artist should do.

Contrary to what I was expecting to do – which was to limit what i was doing – the performance actually opened up, and essentially forced me to do these activities, which I otherwise probably wouldn’t have done to the same degree, or at all.

Mark Farid, Poisonous Antidote exhibited at Gazelli Art House in 2016

Mark Farid, Poisonous Antidote exhibited at Gazelli Art House in 2016

Do you have any idea about the type of people who were watching the performance? Were they mostly friends who checked the website to support you? Or were they mostly complete strangers?

There was just over 32,000 views on the website during September 2016. The views have been from around the world but predominately came from Russia, USA and the UK. And obviously as well at Gazelli Art House, London, the gallery which funded and exhibited the project.

To date now, there have been 47,000 views on the website.

How about your friends and family? Did you make them aware that any interaction with you was being streamed online, for anyone to hear or read?

On the first day Poisonous Antidote started, I sent a message to all my contact (on my phone) to inform them that everything for the next month would be broadcast: emails, text messages, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, and phone calls would be published online, in real-time, on Pretty much every time I was on the phone I would inform them at the beginning that the conversation was being broadcast, and if people started getting slightly too intimate with me, then I would also remind them of the situation.

There were three people who did had an issue with this and refused to talk to me for that month. But to my surprise, only three people! But many of my friends liked it and some had a bit of fun with it and started trolling me which annoyed me a little bit at the beginning, but I would have done exactly the same thing!

I’m curious about the people who didn’t want to engage at all with you during that month? Were they a bit older, from a generation generally viewed as being more protective of their privacy?

No, they were in their 20s and 30s. There was also the Director of arebyte Gallery in London who wasn’t too happy with our conversations being broadcast. Funnily, he’s one of the first phone calls in the film. The last one too. He didn’t like it but ultimately he had no choice but to get in contact with me as they’re funding my next project, Seeing I. But it nicely highlights that even if you want privacy, and you were to do everything within your means to ensure your privacy (he does not), other people’s indifference to data privacy will ultimately be your demise.

But really, most people didn’t care. And that’s something I see elsewhere in my work, which until very recently I was finding to be very surprising.

Mark Farid, Data Shadow, 2015

Mark Farid, Data Shadow, 2015

Poisonous Antidote was the third and final part of a series of projects, wasn’t it? Can you tell me more about the other parts?

To coincide with the first draft of the Investigatory Powers Bill (Nov 2015), the first part of this three part series was Data Shadow (2015) which was an interactive art installation commissioned by Collusion, in partnership with Arts Council England, the University of Cambridge and The Technology Partnership. Located in All Saints Gardens, Cambridge, all visitors were required to interact independently with the installation, entering one at a time. 

On entering the 8 x 2m shipping container, the participant was greeted by a woman holding a contract of consent. Until signed, the woman remained silent, directly staring the individual in the eyes (a physical manifestation of Terms & Conditions). Once signed, candidates proceeded to join the WiFi. 

Participants progressed to the second half of the container, divided by a partitioning door. With sensors tracking the participant’s movements, their real-time (digital) shadow was cast by a projection on two facing walls – one filled with 1000 characters from their most recent text or WhatsApp messages, the other a collage of 64 images from the participant’s mobile phone.

On opening the exit door of the shipping container, all information Data Shadow had on the individual was automatically deleted, ready for the next participant to proceed.

To my surprise, the overwhelming majority of people were not annoyed, scared, or bewildered by it, at all?! There was an 18 year old girl who told me it was “so cool” that I had managed to expose the naked pictures of herself and her boyfriend on her phone.

The second part of this series was the accompanying talk to Data Shadow at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, in which I shared the login details to my entire digital life with the audience, inviting them to take, use, share and change the passwords to my accounts as they please, which ranged from my Facebook account, Apple ID, to online banking, whilst I attempted to live without a digital footprint for 6 months. If you want to know more about both of these projects, please watch my TEDx talk.

And then obviously Poisonous Antidote, the exhibition and online in 2016, and then the film in 2018, were the final parts of this series.

Mark Farid, Data Privacy: Good or Bad? at TEDxWarwick

There are many discussions about the need to value privacy as a protected right. Yet, I often feel that most people do not really care. Do you think that this is due to people not realising what a loss of privacy entails or is it simply that we have new definitions and forms of privacy?

Personally I think it’s because no one is giving a satisfactory response to the statement, “I have nothing to hide”. I put a lot of blame on this statement, as it really angers me. Mainly, because it’s not true – everyone has something to hide, but more so, because I doubt that everyone, on their own, universally came up with this statement, so they’re simply regurgitating an incorrect statement, that shuts down the conversation. Why it shuts down the conversation, is because, the phrase “I have nothing to hide” is based on a presumption that we are guilty until proven innocent. This question flips the subject, quietly, but firmly putting the onus on you to explain why you have nothing to hide. It suggests that you are guilty until proven innocent and this fundamentally goes against innocent until proven guilty. But as I say, I don’t necessarily blame the people making this statement, I blame others – myself included – for not being able to give a good, snappy one-liner response to this.

To come back a bit more to your question, on people not caring about data privacy, I had always ultimately assumed it would take a huge public breach of data privacy before people changed their view. And then Cambridge Analytica happened and I thought that would have played that role of offering a counter-response by showing what happens when private data is used politically and in the wrong way. However, it still hasn’t brought any real results – legally, socially and culturally – in fact, it is Mark Zucckerberg and Facebook who are suggesting the regulation that should be imposed on them! Truly Crazy!

I feel where work like mine has missed the point, is that think people need to be confronted with their data in front of loved ones, but then this becomes too unethical, and this is the problem, data misusage is hugely unethical, and to really highlight it, I think you must be equally, if not more, unethical.

Still, i feel that we’ve reached a point i find a bit unpleasant. I was recently at the Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig and that’s probably the only conference i attend nowadays where they tell you specifically that if you want to take a photo of the audience you have to ask people for their permission to be photographed first. Everywhere else, people do as they please and you end up finding photos of yourself drinking wine and making stupid faces on strangers’ Instagram accounts…

Speaking of the top of my head, this is touching upon two truths, I think.

First there’s the idea that in a free, neo-liberal world, the individual is at the centre: the individual is free to do as they pleases; asking for permission to take a photo of someone, in a public space, can be seen to be a restriction of the individuals (the photographers) liberty (to do whatever they want wherever they are). Obviously this is a slightly warped take on neo-liberalism as we’re talking about taking photos of people, but I think this is one of the roots of what enabled the normalisation of people to take photos of whatever they want. Of course then there is the uploading of the photos on the world wide web, but extremely rarely do people stumble across photos of themselves taken by strangers. But I think this has a bigger foundation in what the world wide web used to be, something free, open and for the people. Back in the day, pre-Facebook, when Google was simply a search engine, when Amazon was a bookshop, ideas of the internet, and even filming and taking photos in public spaces was completely different. But now, as the world wide web becomes more and more centralised, monopolised, and a capitalist Utopia – totally privately owned, essentially unregulated by governments, with a facade of being uncensored, free and democratic – we are the commodity and our data is the currency. This changes everything.

This leads us nicely into the second truth, which I think is a development of the centralisation of the world wide web. Facebook, Google and other privately owned online companies want your data, and want to know everything about you. Not you specifically, but you within the collective. Governments are quietly happy with this, for obvious reasons, along with the monopolisation (of the world wide web by Google and Facebook) as it’s hugely expensive and time consuming to get warrants to demand that lots of different companies must handover data. Getting two warrants, and forcing those two companies to do so is much easier and quicker than getting 20, for example. And then once they do get the data, getting it from one or two companies means they don’t have to process, organise or most importantly analyse your data themselves to nearly the same degree. If your data is coming from 20 different companies, that all use different formatting and (code) languages, then you have to change languages, and format, then aggregate and process this, and so on, which is very expensive and time consuming.

It’s significantly cheaper and efficient for Governments, advertisers, or anyone for that matter, to have one or two companies having all of your data.

And then of course when Google, Facebook, and the Government are ultimately in favour of a very similar, particular model, a subtle and continuous message from these companies and institutions will have underlying messages pushing the came philosophy – that data privacy doesn’t matter, or, ‘I have nothing to hide’. Overtime, this subtle message becomes engrained, and when you combine these incredibly powerful and influential companies (and Governments) you start to realise just how hard it is to argue, and succeed, in the fight for data privacy.

Coming back to your performance, i must say i found it very shocking, even though there is a long tradition of artists exposing their private life in the most open way (people like Tehching Hsieh, Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, etc.) I should be immune to a work like Poisonous Antidote but i’m not.

How has this one month performance changed the way you view social media and digital technology in general? Did it change the way you are using it?

Interestingly, Poisonous Antidote was actually the thing that got me to start using social media again. It really was my Poisonous Antidote. I’m not too sure about the title of the project, but it is a fitting one for my personal experience. As I mentioned earlier, when Data Shadow was being exhibited, and I gave the accompanying talk titled, Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed, I gave away the passwords to my entire online life, from my Facebook account, to my Apple ID, to my online banking account login details, and everything in between. This included my social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. That was in October 2015. Poisonous Antidote was September 2016. So for that period I didn’t have any account.

It was only halfway through September 2016 that I I started to use (new) social media accounts, and this was to see the difference without social media and with social media and how that would change the whole experience to me…

What!??! You didn’t have any social media account for such a long time?!

No, when I gave away my login details, people pretty much immediately changed the passwords to my accounts, and that was that. They were gone and I had no way of get them back. Someone had been using my Facebook account for quite awhile, with some friends getting messages from whoever had the account. Someone is still using my old Twitter account (@markfarid). They set it private and occasionally tweet at me which is both frustrating and fun. It’s worth noting that I didn’t have any kind of accounts for this period – social media to an Apple ID to a smart phone. In any case (and ironically) Poisonous Antidote – a fight for data privacy – made me go back to social media.

But yes, it changed the way I use social media, a bit, but social media – and most website – are quite limited in what you’re really able to do. And as was the case with the gallery director of arebyte Gallery (in the Poisonous Antidote film), other people significantly reduce all of your efforts.

Do you do anything specifically different?

I’m very clear about the way I interact with everything and treat it as if it were a public conversation. So for example, the way that UK is moving at the moment, regrettably I won’t be surprised if we, by necessity, have a form of privatised healthcare in the future, and social media data, amongst others, will almost certainly be one of the things used to decide how expensive or cheap your medical insurance is. So i’m extremely cautious about the kind of things I’m saying to friends and family on Messenger, along with any photos of me, and what I’m doing in them.

I do as much as I can, within reason, the ‘headline’ thing, I guess, being that for every service that I use online, (Facebook, Twitter, Skype etc.) I have a different email address linked to it. Each email address is linked to a pay-as-you-go sim card that’s paid for in cash. Facebook is linked to one email address. Twitter is linked to another one, as is every sign-up I do. Nothing is linked together. I also use fake information, such as fake names and wrong birth dates. Ultimately, if someone wanted to link these accounts together, they could, it’ll just involve a bit more legwork for whoever is doing it.

How many email addresses do you have?!

Haha, I’m not sure. Many many dozens.

But then it makes you look suspicious.

I guess so, but the idea of ‘Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed’ was that by various strangers using my old, but real Facebook account, Twitter account, JustEat, Quora, etc. there shouldn’t appear to be anything suspicious, as they’re being used. That’s the reason why i gave away my passwords, because you’re not able to delete your accounts, so giving away my passwords was the only way I could essentially think of to make the accounts redundant and make the data useless, and at the same time, become invisible, for use of a better word.

How did ‘Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed’ go? How long were you doing it?

‘Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed’ was from October 2015 to April 2016.

When i gave away my passwords in October, the plan was to live for six months without a phone or computer. About 3 weeks after the start of the project, the Paris attacks happened which changed everything. For me, the Paris attach was the 9/11 of Europe. That was the big moment when terrorism became really present in Europe – innocent people being shot in restaurants, concerts and on the streets. The political and social landscape changed overnight. The argument for data privacy, fell flat on its face. The argument for data privacy is built upon individuality and the option to not conform, which is hugely outweighed when confronted with life and death.

During this 6 month period, without a phone or computer, my financial life plummeted beyond all belief. Along with my social life. To talk to me, people had to travel across London and knock on my door and hope I was in.

At one point, my dad hadn’t heard from me for a few months and was incredibly worried. He drove three hours to London to see if I was alive. I returned home to my flat to see a hugely worried, angry, but relieved parent.

At this point, I ‘decided’ I would get a different phone each month and would give the number of that phone to 5 people each month, and it would be a different 5 people every month – to made it harder to link it to me, i.e. If you had my phone number one month, you wouldn’t get my new one the next month, and this included my parents. Due to a plummeting financial side, and a lack of work coming in, I also got 3 different computers, each one I would only use for very specific purposes, at very specific locations, at specific times, whilst using a VPN and Tor.

What i found most traumatic in this experience wasn’t the horrific financial struggles, nor the lack of a social life. Not even the fact that someone committed fraud against me during this time and totally destroyed my credit rating – to the point that I was rejected from a new phone contract last year. All of these things were bad but manageable.

The hardest thing, however, was the cultural vacuum that I lived in during this period. Each day, I was getting more and more disconnected from the ‘real’ world, and what I found was that, slowly, this was effecting how I was interacting with people, what we would interact about, and my overall confidence. For example, it took me over 24 hours to find out about the Paris attacks, but if you were on Facebook – which I had no access to – things were going crazy, you couldn’t not know about it, but in the physical world, people were barely, if at all, talking about it.

I absolutely became depressed and developed quite a serious dependency on drugs a few months into this, and I became a hermit in many ways. In a very simplistic way, one drug replaced another. It wasn’t sustainable – although I did do the 6 months, it was truly awful. Having privacy to allow my sense of self to be free is not what I thought it would be.

I’d recommend watching my TEDx talk, if you want to know more about ‘Anonymity is our only right and that is why it must be destroyed’ and Poisonous Antidote.

So Poisonous Antidote followed this in September 2016?

Poisonous Antidote was my flip back because I found that the exact opposite happened: in totally giving up privacy, by having external-internal, expectations placed upon myself, I was infinitely happier. But this is the problem – my projected self, a constructed image of who I want to be, had a dedicate place to exist, and in doing so, it placed my virtual self at the centre of my real-world experiences.

For the first fifteen days, I found my usage of phone and laptop were normal. If I consciously acknowledged a change, it was, if anything, that I gained in confidence – using the experience opportunely to send things I might otherwise have not. But on September 15, half way through the project, I made a Facebook and a Twitter account, and almost immediately I became aware, even anxious even, about some of my prior arrogance.

Progressively more changes occurred. When I woke up, my phone and computer were not the first things I looked at, as I didn’t want people to know what time I woke up. When I did eventually go on the Internet, check my emails or reply to messages, the first things I looked at was the news, not the Leicester Mercury to read about football. When I was working, I didn’t procrastinate – digitally anyway, because everyone could see. I became very aware of my locations, so I made sure that I was going out, that I was being sociable, and that people could see I was being productive with my time. I would speak to my family more, I was on the Internet less, I was more productive, and surprisingly to me, I was enjoying myself more.

Mark Farid, Poisonous Antidote, 2016. Film by Sophie le Roux

Mark Farid, Poisonous Antidote, 2016

This is very different from ‘Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed’…

Poisonous Antidode certainly highlighted my own online editorial habits, the density of our digital footprints and, for me, the necessity of privacy. Unlike ‘Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed’, where I gave up online privacy to gain personal privacy, only to realise social media is indispensable to contemporary life, Poisonous Antidote embraced the publicity of social media. Subsequently, I have found that I was consciously and subconsciously changing my actions and behaviour to ensure I conformed to my insecurities, rooted in society’s ideologies – that I was doing what I was “meant” to be doing and feeling validated by the knowledge people could see this.

My narcissistic thirst for approval led me to willingly relinquish privacy in exchange for a perceived social stardom, where I was constantly judging my actions and options through the potential reception of my newsfeed, assessing my and their adherence to a standardised code of conduct allowing a form of acknowledgment that confirmed my actions and behaviours. The validation Poisonous Antidote created could only be fulfilled by further consumption, and as we used it more, each post, action and interaction meant less, for I become more reliant on it to fill the growing void it created. It become a self-feeding machine.

Now of course, publishing every part of my online activity might appear to represent some dystopian future. But the truth is that most of us are doing exactly this right now, – albeit in a more limited way. We are constantly self-publishing the details of our lives to technology companies, to governments, and to our networks on social media. The difference between you and I is of degree, not kind.

I also recommend going on where you can see all of my data for the month. It has been hacked multiple times, but all of the data should be back on there. You can also see the Poisonous Antidote film which premiered at the Strasbourg Biennale, and was made in collaboration with the very talented film-maker Sophie le Roux!

Mark Farid, Seeing I, ongoing

Mark Farid, Seeing I, ongoing

And of course, i need to ask you about Seeing I which is scheduled to premiere in September 2019. For the performance you plan to experience the life of another person for 24 hours a day, for 28 days, only seeing and hearing what one person sees and hears, using VR. You had a 24 hour test. Could you tell us how it went?

The 24-hour test run was in February 2014, using a DK1 (the first Oculus development kit). It went well. Well enough to pursue the project and put it on KickStarter in November 2014, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Since then however, I have gained funding from various place and institutions and done many, many, many more trials, the longest being 92-continuous-hours.

Unsuccessful? But i saw LOTS of articles about the projects and they all suggested that you already had the money!

Indeed, this was very frustrating. The KickStarter campaign got lots of press, but the press made no mention of the KickStarter.

In the 4 and a bit years that have followed however, the project is now being commissioned by arebyte Gallery, and is in partnership with the Sundance Institute, the National Theatre, UK, Imagine Science Films and looks set to be taking place at Ars Electronica in September 2019.

We have just finished developing the headband that record a 260 degree field of view left to right and 165 degrees up and down, along with audio. This is what the other person will wear, and has been the main thing holding us back from doing Seeing I, as it doesn’t exist, until now! It has a battery life of 36 hours along with a storage for 36 hours. We will be open sourcing the code, along with the .STL file for people to 3D print after the project has taken place.

The last three sections on the pre-production side to finalise is getting Ethical Approval on the project, and finalising the funders of the documentary (directed by Petri Luukkainen), which I can’t publicly name at this time. I hope to have these two parts finalised in the next two months.

The third section is who the Other person is. If you’re interested in applying, please visit and apply online! We favour applicants living a life aligned with the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. This means, a real-life person who thinks their life is “too boring”!

Mark Farid, Seeing I, ongoing

How do you prepare for this performance?

Since January 2018 I have been, and will be until the exhibition in September 2019, spending prolonged periods of time in virtual reality – a minimum of 45-hours per week – to train my eyes to function in close proximity to LCD display (with no exposure to natural light). This is also to overcome any potential motion sickness I might experience.

The longest I’ve spent in continuous virtual reality is 92-hours, as I mentioned earlier. This was the longest trial I’ve completed without taking the headset off, watching footage from a single person’s life, from first person point of view. I’ve also spent four successive days in virtual reality on three separate occasions, but these were watching stuff on Netflix, YouTube and playing games.

In June 2018, I averaged 16-hours per-day in virtual reality for 23-consecutive-days. This was a specific test, focusing on my eyesight and any potential short or long term damages that might occur. The results found no long-term damage to my eyesight, with the only short-term damage being that he was short-sighted for the two following days.

And another key part of my preparation for the isolation that I will experience during the project, where I will have no human interaction, no stimulation, and no eye contact, I have attended two 10-day silent meditation retreats and I’ll be doing another three in the build up to the 28-day exhibition.

Thanks Mark!

Touch Me, the 1st edition of the Strasbourg Biennale of Contemporary Art was curated by Yasmina Khouaidjia. The event remains open until 3 March 2019 at Hôtel des Postes in Strasbourg, France.

Previously: Strasbourg Biennale. Being a citizen in the age of hyper-connectivity.
Poisonous Antidote was commissioned by Gazelli Art House, London, and in partnership with CPH: LAB.

How to milk a camel and craft an embroidered computer. An interview with Ebru Kurbak

A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, closed two weeks ago and i’m still struggling to type down the final notes from my visit to the event. The past few weeks have been exhausting and exciting but the end of the tunnel is near! I’m really happy to sit down today and write about the work of Ebru Kurbak, a (super talented) Turkish artist and designer based in Vienna. She was showing three very strong projects in Istanbul. Each of them reflects her interest in the often invisible political nature of spaces and technologies, and in the way the design of the ordinary can help shape values, practices and ideologies.

Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet was the work that moved me the most. This version of the touristic guide of Syria was revised and annotated not by savvy globetrotters but by the people who had lived there and had just fled the country. The result is a poignant overlay of landmarks that have been reduced to rubble, routes that can no longer be taken safely but also everyday realities that survive in some form or another despite the hardship. The work, under its unassuming aesthetics, brings nuances to a country that has, in the eyes of most foreigners, transformed from being “one of the most peaceful exotic travel destinations” to “one of the most dangerous places on the planet”.

The artist and designer has also worked with migrants to create Infrequently Asked Questions, a series of workshops in which she asked just one question to people who had recently arrived in Austria, could barely speak German and had lost some self-confidence in front of all the new knowledge and skills they had to learn in order to get by in the new country: What are you good at? The work reveals the best way to milk a camel but also the fact that the values of things are social constructs, not absolute facts.

So Kanno and Ebru Kurbak, Yarn Recorder (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Photograph by Elodie Grethen ©Stitching Worlds

Finally, the biennial also presented Stitching Worlds, an investigation into how different technology would be if textile craftspeople were the catalyst to its industry. The collaborative project produced devices as diverse as a magnificent embroidered computer, an instrument that utilizes spools of yarns and threads to record and play sound, a board game that reflects on cryptocurrencies by requiring players to knit the money they need or a sweater that gives its wearer the ability to occupy electronic space by sending invisible radio transmission waves.

Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet

Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

I talked with the artist shortly after my return from Turkey:

Hi Ebru! Your work Lonely Planet attempts to understand the present reality in Syria by editing a travel guide through interviews with people who recently fled from the country. How did you get the idea for this work? Did the initial idea emerge from discussions with people who have moved from Syria to Austria?

The initial idea actually emerged before I met the people. Back in 2016, the University of Applied Arts Vienna had dedicated one of their vacated buildings as temporary a shelter for people who just arrived from Syria. I was working there at the time when over a thousand people started residing in the building neighboring my workspace. When the University decided to put together an exhibition on this subject, the curator Işın Önol asked me whether I would contribute with a new participatory work. The idea for Lonely Planet was one of the few ideas I came up with early in the process and discussed with Işın before I set foot at the shelter.

I think the questions this work asks have a lot to do with my own experiences growing up. I grew up in Turkey receiving constant news about the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s and the Gulf war in the 90s. These were the “officially declared wars,” so to say. But, although not always recognized as such, there have always been conflicts in Turkey as well, and fragments of what one can easily call war.

“War” or “no war” is not always something that changes from one day to another, as the tourist guides depict. There is some daily life that continues, even if the amount might fluctuate over time. But, apart from the official declarations, when exactly do individuals acknowledge that they are in war? The research I did for the work was an attempt to understand how people in Syria experienced this merged reality of ordinary life and war. People that fled from the country must have identified critical moments, which made them take that difficult decision.

The tourist gaze implied with the travel guide also relates to the shame and sorrow I felt about not having been to Syria before and about how surprisingly little I had known about the country. The process taught me a lot of things that I wish I had known and seen before.

But then again, as said, editing a travel guide was only one of the few vague ideas I had in mind. As soon as I started talking to people at the shelter, they made it clear for me that this was going to be it. The people had just arrived to Austria and were eager to talk about where they used to live, how they used to live, what happened and what changed, as much as I was eager to listen. The guidebook gave us an objective framework to start from and our conversations flew smoothly and naturally from there. This made working on this particular idea more interesting for all of us.

Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Ebru Kurbak, Lonely Planet, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

How was the whole re-writing process of the guide like? I suspect it must have been a very emotional experience. Is what we can see/read at the biennial in Istanbul and on your website the result of long debates and discussions? Or did the participants all agree on what had changed and how in Syria?

It was emotional. Especially editing the first pages in May 2016. And, it was not only because we talked about painful things. It was a time when everything was very recent and all of us were in some sort of shock or even disbelief. I remember Mohammed, one of the people who helped me the most, pointing at the map in the guide and showing me where he had last parked his car some days ago. And I remember unthinkingly asking him what was going to happen with the car, and waking up with the fact that he did not seem to care. It was hard to grasp that people had truly left things behind—both physically and mentally. Seemingly casual things like that proved the immediacy and reality of everything.

The edits in the pages are results of long talks. But, there was no agreement sought among participants. I spoke with everyone in private, at separate times and places, as people were still quite worried about their opinions to be openly known by others in the shelter. All came from different places and had fought for different political views. Their experiences were different from each other and they relied on different sources for news. So, the work captures rather a collection of multiple realities than one objective truth.

The project relies more on text than on shock images, its immediate visual appeal is thus not obvious. Yet the ability of your Lonely Planet work to convey the shock of what Syria was before and what it is now is very powerful. More perhaps than the newspaper photos we got so used to. Was it something you realised right from the start? Did you know that this subtle and visually unspectacular strategy would be so impactful? Or have you, at any point, been tempted to add photos and colourful graphics to the work?

Thanks so much for this comment. I found it a very difficult task to work with such an emotional topic. A tragedy that involves millions of people in first person… I got terrified of unintentionally creating an inappropriate spectacle. No, I did not ever consider using imagery or graphics. But, I had not planned the calm aesthetics to add an extra impact either. It was my intuitions that brought the work to this point, which, luckily, I still feel comfortable with.

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. How to cook Ashak, by Zarifa

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. How to build an Aqal, by Amina

The project Infrequently Asked Questions (iFAQ) reflects your own experience as an immigrant. When you arrived in Austria from Turkey, you had the feeling that the skills you had gathered while growing up in Turkey had no value in your new country. What were these skills exactly? And conversely, are there skills you learnt in Austria that are useless to you when you go to Turkey?

There are many practical examples that come to my mind, such as coping with snow in winter, or, riding a bike in the city. But, frankly, the most difficult skills I had to learn were about human relations. “Wiener Schmäh,” the local and slightly insulting sense of humor referred to as the “Viennese Charm” was exceptionally difficult to get for me, for instance. Before I moved to Austria, I had not realized how much I was influenced by the Anatolian culture. And there is indeed a huge difference between the two cultures in terms of how people generally relate to and communicate with each other. It took me a while until I could recognize how hard-coded my own assumptions and expectations were, particularly about personal relationships. This was an eye-opening experience. But, it was and still is a challenge to tune those assumptions down. I guess this is a pretty common feeling among people who migrate to cultures that are unlike their own. It takes many unnecessary disappointments until one is able to read some of the intentions behind unfamiliar gestures. The skills I learnt here are not as useless when I go back to Turkey though. They might not be useful literally, but they help me identify our unquestioned habits in Turkey and look at them critically.

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Some of these skills and knowledge shared in iFAQ are indeed not very useful in Europe. How to milk a camel for example. Others are. How to recognise a good watermelon for example. I also like the turmeric face mask. What did the experience of working on this project with you brought to the participants? Did they emerge with more self-esteem? A better idea of who they are? A greater understanding of how different cultures can be from one another?

I wanted to highlight that having to learn new skills at a new home does not necessarily mean one is unskilled or undereducated in general. It just means that they had to spend their lives acquiring a totally different set of skills. So, actually, I tried to excavate and display the least useful skills to make my point clear. Later on, when I exhibited the work, I did notice many visitors taking a picture of the watermelon one in particular, saying how useful that information was!

Yet, for me, the work is neither about learning from newcomers, nor about repurposing skills and finding new ways for them to provide for their families.

I intended the work to address the local audience and decision makers more than the participants. I wanted to intervene in the widespread perceptions about the situation. But, the process did also bring us all to a greater understanding of how different cultures can be. The participants were very surprised and entertained by what knowledge and skills I found exciting. Also, in scope of the Vienna Design Week, I organized workshops taught by the migrant women. Local people from Vienna could register for the workshops and learn new skills.

The immigrant women told me they really enjoyed those workshops. It was a totally different social experience for them in which they interacted with local people on a different basis than they are able to do in their ordinary lives.

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Did you work only with women? And if yes, why?

Yes, but not exclusively. The Vienna Design Week had commissioned this project and linked me to the Caritas Lernsprung adult education program as partner. I ended up working mostly with women because it was mostly immigrant women who went through a long and exhaustive voluntary education process at the Caritas Lernsprung. The courses were in fact open for men as well. But when I asked why there were no men around, I was told that men were not as open as women to visiting classes at older ages. At the time of my visits, there were two classes of women, one class from Somalia and one class from Afghanistan, who first were going to learn how to read and write in their own languages. Then, they were going to continue the courses by learning German. After that there comes information about basic necessities of daily life such as way-finding in the subway or being able to use a cash machine. The biggest motivation for the women I met was them wanting to support their children at school. There are a few skills in the exhibition that were collected from men, whom I interviewed during the project but at other places than the classes.

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

If I understood correctly, the opening question for the workshops was “what are you good at?” I find it incredibly difficult to answer that one myself. Was it obvious for the participants to pinpoint what they were good at?

No, not at all! It took us quite some time before the process really started rolling. The first time I visited the class I was welcomed with amazing local food the women had prepared and brought with them. They also had brought a few beautifully handcrafted objects and laid them on their desks. I was extremely surprised and humbled by this gesture. Apparently, their teacher had told them that they would get a visitor and explained roughly what I was up to. The next time I visited, I cooked a pot of stuffed vine leaves based on a recipe from my hometown and brought it to them. Instead of bringing handcrafted objects, I shared examples about the most mundane knowledge and skills I could think of. For example, I gave them a recipe for home made hair removal wax, which was common knowledge among Turkish women during my childhood. Such mundane examples helped us move our focus off food and handcrafts onto more daily knowledge and skills. I asked them what daily skills I would have to learn if I moved to their village. They started coming up with the most amazing ideas on what to teach me.

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Ebru Kurbak, Infrequently Asked Questions, 2015-2016. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

I liked the way you present the participants’ contributions. They are delicately framed like valuable artefacts. What is the motivation behind the particular way in which you present these skills?

Most of the visualizations and objects in those frames had been created in the process of collecting the skills. The participants and I did not really have a common language to speak. Their teachers helped us translate things but we mostly had to speak in broken German. I made models and drawings to help us communicate more precisely about the skills. I kept all those materials that were created during the interviews and later on integrated them in the instructional frames I designed. The instructions include plenty of visual information besides German texts because I wanted the participants to be able to follow and understand them as much as the local visitors of the exhibition were. When the participants saw the frames, they were able to identify which frame depicted the skill they personally taught me and check the accuracy of what I had gathered from our conversations.

I’d also love an iFAQ book in which you’d gather some of the skills and knowledge collected during these workshops. Have you thought about it?

Yes. With this work I received the Erste Bank MoreValue Design Prize, which came with a project budget for the designers to continue the work in the way they want. An iFAQs book was one of the ideas I had when I was pondering on how I would like to continue. In the end, I decided to rather expand the scale of the project first with more skills and exhibit it a year later. The exhibition took place at the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art, which has a quite local visitor profile that was amazing to reach. We also created a small catalogue on the whole project, together with Vienna Design Week, Erste Bank and Caritas. The booklet includes some of the collected skills, but also articles on the topic and process, and interviews with the participants. The idea about an iFAQs skill-book is somehow stuck in my mind. I am still collecting skills as I come across them and might pick up on that book idea in the future.

Ebru Kurbak and Irene Posch, The Embroidered Computer (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Ebru Kurbak and Irene Posch, The Embroidered Computer (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Ebru Kurbak, Stitching Worlds, 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

Ebru Kurbak, The Knitcoin Edition (Stitching Worlds), 2018. Exhibition view at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Photo: Kayhan Kaygusuz

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects, events, fields of research you’d like to share with us?

Well, there are a few commissioned exhibition projects I am running in parallel. But, I have been mostly busy with wrapping up another long-term and large-scale artistic research project titled Stitching Worlds. The project questions the politics of invention in terms of how it influenced societal evaluation of skills. We looked at textile crafting techniques as alternative ways to create electronic technologies and spent about four years on making technological research in the marginalized space of often-undervalued women’s work. The project recently ended with an exhibition and a book, but also opened up a few new exciting research topics that I’m currently looking into. I’m very curious to see where those ideas will lead me to!

Thanks Ebru!

Ebru Kurbak’s projects Lonely Planet, Infrequently Asked Questions and Stitching Worlds were part of A School of School, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, curated by Jan Boelen and organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). The exhibitions closed on 4 November 2018.

Also part of the biennial: Staying Alive. A “wunderkammer” of disaster solutions, Halletmek. The Turkish art of speeding up design processes and Genetically Modified Generation (Designer Babies).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Hutchison, Fabrications, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Hutchison, Monolimum, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Jeremy!

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

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

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

Psychanalysis of the international airport

I can’t think of a place that’s more artificial, more regulated and more frustrating than an airport. With each passing year, the rules to navigate it get more draconian, the security procedures more invasive and its design more standardized. Yet, we are all expected to comply and accept what would be deemed unacceptable anywhere else.

Photo courtesy of Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

Artists and researchers Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon have investigated and condensed the schizophrenia of international airports in performances, research and more recently in a book.

In their works, the artists dissect all the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of international airports.

Their analysis led them to speculate a Terrorism Museum, a space that places the traveler in a maximal state of alert. One roams inside visible and invisible security devices, which tend to cancel the slightest probability of a threat. Yet, in a vicious circle, the more present is the surveillance, the more real the threat seems.

Their research has humour, bite and darkness. What makes the work of Degoutin and Wagon particularly fascinating is how they draw parallels between airports and other areas of life: social media, wealth inequalities, western-centrism, etc. Their investigation becomes particularly disturbing when it details how many of tomorrow’s most intrusive technologies are being rehearsed in terminals across the world: the algorithms that analize your facial expressions, the driverless vehicles or the bees that sniff drugs and explosives.

I discovered their work last Summer while i was visiting the exhibition Aéroports / Ville-monde at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris. Their installation featured copies of a Psychoanalysis of the International Airport – Museum of Terrorism booklet that compiled evidences of the ‘autistic architecture’ of airports and kept visitors glued to uncomfortable little chairs. Like everyone else in the room, I was as fascinated by the publication. Like everyone else, i asked the gallery shop staff if/where/how i could buy a copy. I couldn’t. Until now. The artistic duo has just published a book that delves with even more depth into the issue: Psychanalyse de l’aéroport international (available only in french so far.)

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, Psychanalyse de l’aéroport international

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, Psychanalyse de l’aéroport International

This was my cue to get in touch with the artists and ask them about their research on airports. Stéphane Degoutin teaches at ENSAD in Paris and is particularly interested in researching “mankind after man, the contemporary city after public space, architecture after pleasure.” Gwenola Wagon has produced numerous sound and moving image installations and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Paris at St. Denis. Together they founded Nogo Voyages.

Hi Gwenola and Stéphane! You call airport a “laboratory of modernity.” Could you tell us why?

SD: The airport is where different promises of the modern world are concentrated: the promise of moving freely around the globe, the promise of unlimited shopping,the promise of a completely rational organisation and the promise of a perfect surveillance. It embodies the desire of mastering the world. Yet, it is also the place where these promises meet their limits and their contradictions.

GW: The airport is at the crossroad of all kinds of transport (objects, animals, people). Its images of surveillance and control are relayed by its infrastructure and augmented by the ones that travelers make. Although matter is not teleportable, imagination still allows us to race through the stages of circulation. The airport becomes the place to fantasize about bodies propelled far away at high speed. Our writings are punctuated with documents: images, texts, news items, quotes, found fragments, testimonies with which we try to recompose the dreams of this place.

Photo courtesy of Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

And do you see signs that the invasive infrastructure of control over bodies and behaviour of this laboratory might be applied somewhere else in our daily experience of the city?

SD: Yes indeed. The control procedures which are first tested in the airport are then applied in many places in the city, see for instance the metal detectors, which have become common in many malls, museums and other public buildings and in many metro systems around the globe. In the LA metro system, a body scanner has been tested.

GW: The airport is an archetypal place, in terms of both space and behaviour. In the book, we have a chapter about what we call “Cultural LCD”, which can be defined as the Least Common Denominator of world cultures. A universal code that would be as neutral as possible, a standardized interface that allows different individuals or cultural groups to communicate with each other. However, the airport model is expanding further and further and contaminating railway stations, institutions, monuments, stadiums, concert halls, museums, international hotels, malls and urban duty-free shops, restaurants, museums, schools, universities, offices, motorway service areas, etc.

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, Terorism Museum (video still), 2009-2013

I had a look at the video of the tour of the TERRORISM MUSEUM and was wondering how much complicity you had with the airport authorities. Your slow path and behaviour seem a bit at odd with the frenzy usually displayed by travellers and people working at the airport. You all looked a bit suspicious. So did you have to ask for some authorisation to do this tour inside the airport? Did they facilitate in anyway a tour that deconstructs the architecture of control and paranoia they deploy?

SD: For the Terrorism Museum project, we wanted to guide groups of visitors in the terminal 1 of Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, to speak of questions related to terrorism and surveillance. We asked an actor to act as a guide. He was whispering in a microphone a series of texts, which were transmitted to the ears of the visitors via a wireless system. It was really quite impressive to walk inside the terminal while visiting a museum dedicated to terrorism, along with the travellers, the police, the military and the homeless.

We did have an authorisation, thanks to the curator of this event, Andrea Urlberger, who was very persistent: she spent two years to get the proper authorisations. She wanted to host a series of art works in the terminal, including ours. She had previously worked with an airport in Munich (Germany), and there was no problem at all, but Paris was a different story… In the end, we said the title of the project was «Airport Museum» instead of «Terrorism Museum». Otherwise, it would have been impossible.

Why did you call the work Terrorism Museum? I understand the “terrorism” half but what is the significance of the term ‘museum’ in this context? There’s no display of artefacts.

SD: The idea is to create a museum of questions. We believe that the notion of « terrorism » is complex and we gathered a lot of texts by philosophers, press articles or by the terrorists themselves. We created a montage of these texts and we looked for a way to display them in an airport. We first thought of a virtual reality system, so that one could visit the museum by oneself, just by downloading an app on your cellphone. The texts would be geolocalised and you would visit them just by hanging around the airport. You would meet Bin Laden in the duty free and Habermas in the toilets, for instance. We created a prototype, but it was quite inefficient – we found out that the geolocalisation does not work properly in the airport. We presume the networks are blurred on purpose. Anyway, this is why we finally developed a « human » version of the project, with an actor, and we thought it was great.

GW: The museum is not disconnected from reality, it adds an extra layer to the space and superimposes overlays of theoretical questions to reality. The public visits it by walking through the real place, by making its way through the crowd, looking at shop windows, shopping, visiting the airport, etc. We developed this idea of a stealth museum to explores questions related to all the post 9/11 literature which, we thought, could fit inside a transportable museum that infiltrates directly the places which logic it questions and that uses available networks (GSM, Wifi, GPS…) to insinuates itself within its space. Nothing indicates its existence. Nobody knows you’re a visitor of the museum.

Photo courtesy of Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

Photo courtesy of Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

I remember the document you were showing at the Gaîté Lyrique for the exhibition Aéroports / Ville-Monde. It was full of wit, humour but darkness too. I sat there for a long time, reading through it and i sometimes think about its content when i have to take a plane now. How different is the book “Psychanalyse de l’aéroport International” that you are releasing with 369 editions? How much does it built upon the document i saw in Paris last year? And how much does it differ from it?

SD: The document you are referring to has first been produced for an exhibition at La Panacée in Montpellier. It was presented as a series of leaflets for the different rooms of the Terrorism Museum, so that you could take it with you at the airport. The different leaflets could be assembled together to form a book. The book we release now is based on it, but we have added a lot of texts, many new images, so that it is much bigger now. We also wrote a completely different introduction, to present the project to a wider audience. And it is no longer presented as the guidebook to the Terrorism Museum, but a project in its own right. The graphic design also has been completely changed by Louise Drulhe, the same graphic designer who conceived the first version. The idea was to make a book that would be accessible by a larger audience, not limiting ourselves to art centers. We would also love to publish the book in english of course.

GW: Several additional chapters complete the first artists book presented in Montpellier: L’aéroport comme archétype, Compulsion de normalité, Les somnambules du duty free, Vertige du lisse, Bulle de consolation, Stade oral du lounge et Crise d’hystérie dans la file d’attente (The airport as an Archetype, Compulsion of Normality, Duty Free Somnambulists, Dizziness of Smoothness, Bubble of Consolation, Oral Stage of the Lounge and Hysteria in the Queue), we also have new series of images as well as collected stories about the phenomenon of airport rage or about comfort animals. We want to show that the airport is, simultaneously, an archetypal place and a Crystal Palace of contemporary circulations. It clusters contradictions, connects injunctions of fluidity and of prohibition in order to safeguard us against all possible threats. This lead us to try and analyze it from the point of view of both its own logic and the paradoxical situations it provokes, to the point that it sometimes becomes the receptacle of the wildest stories.

Aéroports ville monde, at the Gaîté Lyrique

Aéroports ville monde, at the Gaîté Lyrique

Terminal P, at La Panacée, 2016

What i found most astonishing in your work is the depth and breath of the research that must have preceded the booklet i saw in Paris. Where did the information you gathered come from? interviews? stories read in newspapers/online?

SD: Thank you :) Well, it is an essay, so most of the material comes from our brains. We also gathered a lot of anecdotes from different sources, printed books, online magazines and blogs. We were interested not only in what really happened, but also in what people could fantasise (we hope the difference is clear in the book). We also read a lot of post 9/11 texts, because at that time, a lot of people have been forced to make sense of the events that occurred, and very deep texts have been published. Most of those we have gathered are by continental philosophers, but of course this is a subjective choice.

GW: We often carry out investigations in places that are off-limits (data center, animal farm, storage warehouse) that is why our research projects often emerge from documents that we would not be able to get hold of ourselves. Series of sleeping travelers, drunk, frisked exhibitionists… these documents and their captions disrupt the dramaturgy of our writings.

Many of the images come from advertisement. We divert them into another narrative that does not sell air conditioning, detectors nor robot guides. Instead, the narrative tells the story of the place through documents that we choose and combine with each other, like collages (after a very long selection) in order to reveal our relationship to the place.

For example, when we discovered the video of this woman throwing a tantrum after she’d missed her plane, it resonated with contained emotions that reach a climax through the pressure of extreme moments.

Crazy Airport Lady Throws Tantrum

Photo courtesy of Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

In the end, do we still have any form of agency or space for resistance when we move across an airport? Are we condemned to be victims of this infrastructure that regulates and invades our bodies?

SD : One who enters the airport abandons one’s power over one’s own body and free will. Of course, he gains the possibility to travel. It seems to obstruct even the possibility of thinking. This fragment of time during which one will abandon one’s free will to enter the huge machine is fascinating – and a bit frightening. We wanted to question this uncanny place.

GW: We do not seek to create spaces to think about dystopia, nor do we try to unnecessarily dramatize places that are already intrinsically tragic. On the contrary, we seek to show that the pinnacle of the hyper-nationality of certain spaces – such as airports – sometimes confines us to moments of pure absurdity. In the selected documents, certain situations or collages try to conjugate the absurd and the poetical. Laughter meets tragedy, a moment when we no longer know if we should laugh or cry. This tipping point, this ridgeline between emotions that could sometimes seem contradictory, that’s exactly where we try to position ourselves … while trying not to lose sight of the various layers of the place. Let’s hope that, with this book, readers can extend the analyzes and thoughts of the prismatic facets of the place, without forgetting its blind spots and its dead spots …

Thanks Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon!

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, Psychanalyse de l’aéroport International

Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, Psychanalyse de l’aéroport International

Photo courtesy of Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon

Psychanalyse de l’aéroport International, by Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon is edited by 369 editions. Right now available only in french. Hopefully, an english version will follow!

Previously: Airports: forerunners of a new world or microcosms of their own?

What would a public park look like if it was built from the perspective of bees?

Erik Sjödin‘s art and research practice has led him to investigate human relationships to fire, aquatic plants that might one day feed the first inhabitants of planet Mars, bees and humans connections and community-based ways of producing food.

Erik Sjödin, Bee shed in Lötsjön natural reserve and park, Stockholm, Sweden 2018. Photo Erik Sjödin

I’ve been following his work since 2011 and always thought there was something remarkably peaceful, generous and efficient about his work. At a time when artists, journalists and scientists alike are calling for a more considerate, a less anthropocentric way to live on this planet, Sjödin is quietly doing just that. Working on potential solutions to problems of contemporary urgency and sharing the lessons with others through exhibitions, publications, workshops as well as collaborations with scientists, farmers, gardeners, other artists and chefs.

Anytime is a good time to catch up with Sjödin and interview him about his latest projects. My excuse to get in touch with him again is Community Services, an exhibition in Marabouparken in Sundbyberg, just north of Stockholm. The show brings human beings closer to bees by revealing how the small pollinators have been “understood, written about, cared for, neglected and persecuted by humans.”

The Political Beekeeper’s Library and Bee Shed are two of the works the artist is showing in Marabouparken. The former is a collection of books where authors from Aristoteles to Thomas D. Seeley draw parallels between bees and humans, in particular how they are socially and politically organized. “What starts as a story of a patriarchal monarchy ends with a tale of radical democracy.” Bee Shed is a sculpture that also functions as a large house for pollinators. The shelter explores what a public park would look like if it was built from the perspective of the wildlife that use the park alongside the humans.

Reading performance by artist Mia Isabel Edelgart at the bee shed in Marabouparken, Stockholm Sweden, 2018. Photo Erik Sjödin

Here’s what our email exchanges looked like:

Hi Erik! For the Marabouparken, you have created a sculpture that also functions as a house for pollinators. The work questions our understanding of what constitutes a ‘good’, pleasant park and suggests that we might want to interrogate this human-centered perception and think about what a park would be/look like if it were built from the perspective of the wildlife that use the park. Can you then tell us about some of the characteristics and qualities of a park that caters also for non-human living species?

For the Marabou park I have created a bee shed. It is essentially what’s usually called a “bee hotel”, although I’m trying to contrast the transient dwelling and luxury connotations that a hotel has by calling it a shed. In its appearance the structure is humble and resembles a wood shed for storing firewood. A wood shed is a typical structure that is part of the old cultural landscape in Sweden and may provide habitat for many insects and other animal.

The Marabou park was initially landscaped in the beginning of the 20th century with the intent to provide relief for workers at the Marabou factory which is now an art space. Two separate parts of the park were explicitly constructed with inspiration from The Arts and Craft Movement and Functionalism respectively. The arts and craft movement came about in 19th century Britain as a reaction to increased industrialisation and harsh conditions for factory workers. Functionalism emerged in the first half of the 20th century and promoted increased industrialisation and efficiency. Although contradictory both of these design and construction philosophies have in common that they try to provide for the needs of humans. They also have in common that they don’t actively take into account the needs of nonhumans such as animals and plants.

With the bee shed we try to add an element of consideration also for nonhumans in the park. It provides a habitat for solitary bees and other insects. We will also work with the park management to increase the amount of flowering plants in the park, for example in the form of more meadows instead of lawns, and to create more habitats for animals, for example by leaving logs and falling tree branches on the ground for insects to nest in. Since public awareness and interest in biodiversity in cities is increasing this is also something that the park management and the municipality is interested in and already working with.

Increased biodiversity in parks in the form of flowering plants, buzzing bees and chirping birds etc can provide aesthetic pleasure to park residents and be relevant besides from the intrinsic value nonhuman life has. Biodiversity doesn’t have to conflict with human interests. Studies have also shown that the best protection for biodiverse urban areas such as parks and forests is human engagement in them.

You’ve been working a lot with bees over these past few years. Recently, journalists have been writing about insect numbers falling because of pesticides, pollution and loss of habitat. Have you found that the public is sufficiently informed and concerned about the disappearance of the little pollinators?

In Sweden media attention and campaigns from various organisations and public figures have done a lot to increase awareness about pollinators. Recently other species than honey bees, mainly pollinators, have gained media attention and people are becoming more aware that there are many insects that are integral to agriculture and our ecosystems in general. People want to save the bees. In general though I would guess that the interest for insects is marginal and insects are probably still mostly considered an annoyance.

Our Friends the Pollinators, workshop at Marabouparken, 2018

How much can artists and grassroots movements bring to the emergency to save bees? Can citizens have a real impact on the problem or is the survival of bee populations mostly in the hands of governments and the agro-food industry?

Artists and other citizens and organisations that create awareness help shape public opinion which create incentive for governments to develop policies that allow for farmers and industry to change their practices in ways that increase biodiversity. When many people change their consumption patterns, for example by choosing more ecological and locally produced food and other products, that may also make real difference.

The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden 2017

Karl von Frisch, The Dancing Bees, 1927

The Political Beekeeper’s Library (a research which you generously share at looks at books where parallels are drawn between how bees and humans are socially and politically organised. “What starts as a story of a patriarchal monarchy ends with a tale of radical democracy.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

Those are not my own words but it is a fitting and hopeful description of the library as a whole. The library contains books spanning from 4th century BCE when the hive was generally considered as a kingdom, a notion that dominated into the 17th century when the idea of the hive as a monarchy but now with a queen began to emerge. In the 21st century there has been scientific books published which dethrone the queen and describe the beehive as having democratic elements. Radical is a word that is relative but in some contexts the collective decision making methods the bees apply could be described as radical.

As your research shows, bee organisations have been understood in different ways through time. Are the way they function and govern themselves subject to as many interpretations as there are political systems in favour at a certain moment? Or have we, in the 21h century, finally reached an agreement, an objective understanding on how bees are socially organised?

I suspect there isn’t agreement or understanding about all aspects of how bees are socially organised even among scientist such as entomologist and animal behaviourists. However, there are a lot of behaviours that have been independently observed and there is consensus around. In contemporary non-academic but “science based” literature interpretations of the bee society still vary wildly, from the hive being described as a smooth running company with a skilled CEO to the hive being a dystopian totalitarian state.

The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Losæter, in Oslo, Norway 2017

The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Losæter, in Oslo, Norway 2017

What lessons could humans draw from the way bees are organised?

I would be careful to apply ideas about how bees are organised onto how humans ought to be organised, but many people have done so. The roman philosopher Seneca for example is said to have been inspired by the poet Virgil’s depiction of the beehive as a kingdom in claiming that monarchy is an invention of nature. Seneca was the teacher of emperor Nero who eventually forced Seneca to take his own life for alleged treason. Perhaps Seneca regretted drawing conclusions from the bees.

Thomas D. Seeley who is the author of Honey Bee Democracy, published in 2010, advocates that humans should learn from the decision method that bees use when they swarm and have to decide for a new place to nest in. However, that decision method, a form of representative quorum sensing, is just one of many more or less democratic decision making methods that are available to us humans.

Nest for solitary bees made of reed bundled in birch bark, at Marabouparken 2018.

Let’s say i’m someone who has access to a balcony or a garden but i don’t want to install a beehive. Is there still something i can do to help bee pop thrive?

Yes. Lawns are great for play and leisure but if you have more lawn than you need then it’s a good idea to convert some of it into meadow or to plant other flowering plants. Bees enjoy flowering herbs for example, which also works great to grow on a balcony. If the balcony is too high up for the bees then at least you have something to spice up your food with. You can also create habitats for wild bees, for example by making dry sand and soil beds for ground nesting mining bees, or by drilling holes of various sizes in old logs for mason bees and leaf cutter bees.

The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project at Agoramania in Paris, France 2018. Screening of video material courtesy of Ségolène Guinard / NASA

Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset

I think the last time i interviewed you was about The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project. That was in 2011 and the work continues to attract interest from art institutions. Has the project evolved and grown since we last talked about it?

It keeps getting more complex and has reached a point where it’s difficult to push some aspects of the project further without proper scientific studies, but I’m still working with it when opportunity arises. Recently I’ve been collaborating with Ségolène Guinard, a philosopher and PhD candidate who has studied space exploration and plants in space. Since Azolla has been proposed as a potential crop for Mars settlement I think it’s valuable to bring her contextualising perspectives into the project. I’ve also participated with an indoor Azolla cultivation in the comprehensive exhibition The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind at Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. This gave me some resources and incentive to try new technology for growing Azolla under artificial light. I’ve had some trouble growing Azolla indoors previously but now I have gotten this to work pretty well. If cultivation under artificial light makes sense in general can be questioned, but it enables me to keep the plant growing year around and learn more about it.

Apiary made of drift wood. In the west fjords, Iceland 2017

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

Currently I’m mainly focusing on research and production of work related to pollinators. Last year I visited beekeepers in Iceland to document their apiaries and try to understand their motivations for keeping bees in Iceland. Beekeeping is not yet established in Iceland and the conditions are not always ideal for beekeeping. Honey bees might also compete with native pollinators for limited floral resources. I’m hoping to maybe go back to Iceland to visit more beekeepers and to connect to researchers who monitors the flora and fauna on Iceland. Eventually I would like to put some effort into presenting the material and research I’ve gathered, which I think paints a complex and both problematic and hopeful picture.

Apiary in south-west Iceland, 2017

Why would beekeepers want to establish bee colonies in Iceland if the conditions there are, as you noted, not optimal? Do you already have an idea of the motivation of the beekeepers or do you still need to do more research into it?

Why people attempt to keep bees on Iceland is part of what I have been trying to find out. People have been trying since the 1940’s and so far it hasn’t worked out in the long run. There are around a hundred beekeepers on Iceland now, more than ever before. Maybe together they can figure out how to make the bees thrive. Some people are quite successful, although in general they are still dependent on import of bees.

The beekeepers on Iceland are all part of the same community of beekeepers and they import bees from a beekeeper on the island Åland in the Baltic Sea. The reason they import from Åland is because the honey bees there aren’t infested with the dreaded varroa mite. One reason for beekeeping on Iceland that many beekeepers bring up is that if beekeeping is successfully established then Iceland could be another “safe zone” where bees can thrive without the mite.

There’s not much reason to keep bees for the honey. The yields are generally quite small and importing honey is much easier and cheaper. However, although I don’t think people do it just for the money, local honey can be marketed and sold to very high prices on Iceland and this actually makes it a more lucrative business for some than beekeeping is in, for example, Sweden. Some beekeepers hope that honey bees could help with pollination of plants and boost their local flora, but there’s not a real need for pollination of crops. I think generally people keep honey bees simply because they think it’s fun and they would like to have bees around just like they have other domesticated animals. Some people have lived abroad and been beekeepers in for example Norway or Sweden, and they want to continue to keep bees on Iceland too. One beekeeper, an artist, simply said it was for aesthetic reasons, he would like to have bees buzzing around on his farm.

Thanks Erik!

The work of Erik Sjödin and of Mia Isabel Edelgart is on view at the exhibition Community Services in Marabouparken’s BOX and park until 26 August 2018.

Sjödin’s work is also part of the exhibition Eco-Visionaries at Bildmuseet in Umea, Sweden until 21 October 2018.

Previously: Super Meal; Interview with Kultivator, an experimental cooperation of organic farming and visual art practice; Survival Kit Festival in Umeå and The Seed Journey to preserve plant genetic diversity. An interview with Amy Franceschini.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Out workshop. Photo by Svetlana Mikhailova Ostonen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Anastasia, Arlene and Henkka!

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

K-9_topology, on the human/ dog co-evolution. An interview with Maja Smrekar

Maja Smrekar, K-9 topology ARTE_mis . Photo: Anze Sekelj and Hana Josic

Maja Smrekar has spent the past few years investigating human/dog/wolf co-evolution, co-habitation as well as the possibility to create a hybrid of the human and the dog species. Her K-9_topology work places this co-evolution at the center of a broader reflection around humanity, its presumption to have an innate right to rule over other living entities and the consequences this self-centeredness is having on the very future of our planet (or at least of our existence upon it.)

Maja Smrekar in collaboration with Manuel Vason, K-9 topology Hybrid Family, Berlin, 2016

K-9_topology evolved over a period of several years and is articulated around four artworks. The first, Ecce Canis, involved isolating serotonin from the blood of both the artist and her dog companion Byron to transform it into an odor that permeated a gallery installation. The fragrance symbolized the olfactory basis of their relationship and by extension the long history of mutual tolerance and taming of both species.

Maja Smrekar, I Hunt Nature and Culture Hunts Me (video extract of the performance) at Rencontres Bandits-Mages, 2014

The second project in the series, I Hunt Nature, and Culture Hunts Me took place at the JACANA Wildlife Studios in France, where she worked with animal ethologists to establish a relationship of trust with wolves and wolf dogs.

Hybrid Family is the third chapter in the series. In this long duration performance, Smrekar biologically manipulated her body so that she could use her own breast milk to feed an Icelandic Spitz puppy. The process took place in a retreat in the company of Smrekar’s dog companion Byron. The three of them thus literally formed a hybrid family in which the exploration of transpecies motherhood broke away from the confines of human families, “without humanizing the animal or animalizing the human.”

Finally, the project ARTE_mis enabled her to further explore co-evolution of humans and dogs by suggesting the possibility to create a hybrid creature. One of her ova was used as a host for a somatic cell of her dog Byron. The resulting hybrid cell was never meant to become a chimera. Instead, it suggested that if we care for Planet Earth and our survival upon it, we might as well morph into creatures that treat their environment with more consideration than we do.

Behind its spectacular and, for some, controversial guises, K-9_topology offers us the opportunity to reflect on uncomfortable issues such as the instrumentalization of bodies, the problematic position of the human species at the top and center of the ecosystem, the ambiguities of biotechnological practices and promises, the prospect of a post-human world, etc.

Maja Smrekar, K-9_topology

I caught up with the artist for an interview about K-9_topology:

Hi Maja! First of all, i’d like to ask the obvious question: the controversy that the works raised. It seems that some (lazy) journalists were so shocked and incensed by your performances that your gallery Galerija Kapelica had to publish a statement to clarify all misunderstandings and misinterpretations. I’m sure you were expecting controversy. But was it something that was part of the initial plan? Something that you’d use to fire up and deepen the conversation? Or was it just an inevitable byproduct of a brave and thought-provoking project?

Obviously some kind of a reaction could have been anticipated, especially in the light of the forthcoming elections last year in Austria where it all started. In May 2017, a right wing paper published news which falsely explained some crucial steps in my projects. Despite the official public clarifications of my work process by Ars Electronica and later by Kapelica Gallery, in the next months, this fake news with additional (mis)interpretations got pulled into a vortex of online negative virality. I understand these events as a symptomatic proof of concept on the times we live in, which are clearly established as a state of some kind of a universal crisis. Reactions to this crisis range from a diverse plethora of fundamentalism to the right-wing populism, that put everything not equal to their perception of ”normal” to the opposition, and some parts of the society are consequently becoming more and more conservative. Such radical and aggressive sensationalism needs to be resisted by radical artistic statements and works. I think artists are obligated to address those conditions of neoliberalism which causes a sense of social un-security in people. And people respond to it with great fear that usually manifests in different forms of hate speech. Those kind of reactions are simply built into the system all over the world. Therefore in the light of the above mentioned global atmosphere, I have since the start of my projects felt the need to resist this contemporary cynicism, which in the service of false political correctness in our society essentially rejects everything remotely animalistic.

Maja Smrekar in collaboration with Manuel Vason, ARTE_mis, 2016. Photo credit: Miha Fras

How about scientists? Was it easy to get them on board when you explained them what your performances would be about?

ARTE_mis project was the one that was strongly developed with a proposal through a scientific concept within which I was connecting three carnivorous species: human, dog and wolf. Ever since the beginning of their existence, all three species have been regulating the environment together, although wolf is an endangered species nowadays, whereas humans and dogs have became the largest invasive species on the planet. Therefore I placed our cell materials in an equal cohabitation relationship as an artefact.

What we got was not so much a chimera, as it was an artistic statement! Despite the fact that the project carries a plethora of biotechnological potentials, it at the same time serves as a civil tactical media act. Even though the final cell exists frozen in liquid nitrogen, it also evokes a public discourse and serves as a reference to the theory of Rosi Braidotti, who requires us to think beyond humanist limitations, in order to embrace the risks that becoming other than human will bring in the future.

The scientists I was working with could easily understand this concept. However, due to the before mentioned culture of sensationalism growing within the society of fear ranging from bio phobia, to bio phascination, they choose not to be mentioned in the credits of my last project. I think that was a smart decision.

Maja Smrekar, K-9_topology: ECCE CANIS. Credit: Ars Electronica / Florian Voggeneder

Maja Smrekar, K-9_topology: ECCE CANIS. Credit: Maja Smrekar

Maja Smrekar, K-9_topology: ECCE CANIS. Credit: Maja Smrekar

Were there moments when you realized that being an artist gave you more agency than if you had been a scientist? What are you allowed to do research, experiment with and perform that a scientist would be forbidden to do?

I think the regulations within the law and its consequences should always be considered on all sides. One of the main differences between the fields is the approach regarding methods of work. I do not think that the collaboration between scientists and artists is a competition in terms of which area could offer more possibilities, especially since as an artist, I use science in my work as an artistic media that communicates an important message: science and technology are present in every pore of our everyday life, so I think it is necessary to address them when we are dwelling on the aspects of contemporary society.

Works like ARTE_mis and Hybrid Family defy traditional views related to the female body, its accepted functions and its purposes. So i’m tempted to see a feminist statement in these performances. Was there indeed a feminist element in your approach of the works?

Absolutely. Hybrid Family with the whole durational breast pumping act was addressing the postindustrial perspective of the dominant service activity on which the sociological and ideological positions of motherhood are based, and as such the breastfeeding instrumentation as its derivative. The next step in the project was to establish an emphatic distance towards the Other. At a public presentation in my then established studio in Berlin, visitors were witnessing the feeding of a puppy Ada with my colostrum, while discussing reproductive freedom in a hetero normative society in which the concept of a traditional family seems to be an increasingly problematic illusion.

The concept for the ARTE_mis clearly grew out of the Hybrid Family but it also contains a further observation on our zeitgeist. In the face of disappearing natural resources and the increasing demand for them, the global migration flows, overpopulation and consequently threats to the environment and biodiversity, all evoked by a globalized capitalist system that seems to pursue its path of destruction until everything is consumed, I was dwelling on the myth of humanity, which has been based on universal values and our exceptionalism, always excluding some that didn’t correspond to the ideal which underlies the apparent.

There have always been fine gradations within the category of the human, according to gender, race, class, culture, nation, religion, species and so on. Therefore, not all of us can say, with any degree of certainty, that we have always been human, or that we are only that. Within a synergy of Hybrid Family and ARTE_mis I placed myself in the ultimate position of the Other, whereas through my body as well as bodies of my dog companions, I was therefore trying to initiate a debate on what conventional law based ethical phrases such as “compromising human dignity” even mean?

The 4 chapters of K-9_topology have now been completed. Did you, at any point, have to rethink your assumptions and initial beliefs? Did your project hit some limitations you had not expected? For example, in terms of interspecies communication, possibilities to create a genetic hybrid of the two species, technical procedures, etc. Did you hit walls, constraints that you had not contemplated?

I already start every new project with the assumption that nothing is going to be at the end as anticipated at the beginning, which is very exciting. Every artistic process is built on this kind of dynamics, no matter what art field we are talking about. For one, those technological “problems” are always at work. In a research-based hybrid field, the process of work is most important for composing the whole conceptual frame of the artwork. There are always many options how to achieve as well as interpret the result. Sometimes the process inspires me to take a different course from the one I anticipated at the beginning. That is also one of the crucial differencies between art and science. In art the whole research organically inspires you towards the final conceptual frame whereas in science a result needs to be the same as predicted at the beginning. And most importantly, the result needs to be repeatable.

Regarding the biotechnological infrastructure as one of the most important aspects of this kind of work – I consider myself very lucky to be living in Slovenia and collaborating with Kapelica Gallery, which has, under the Kersnikova Institute in Ljubljana, established BIOTEHNA – a laboratory for artistic research of living systems, where I was able to execute bio technologycal part of my projects along with my collaborators, and fortunately had enough of the equipment, materials, resources, time and space to do so, considering all the troubleshooting that comes along in such process.

As for the inter species communication, in some of my projects my two dog companions, Byron and Ada, have been collaborating with me. Beside executing those projects, between 2011 and 2016, I have been educating along with them in dog sports and dog obedience trainings in Ljubljana, within an institution, registered by the FCI (Federation Cinologique Internationale) – the World Canine Organisation. As a dog handler I have received official certificates. Beside some projects, where I have been collaborating with other animals along with professional ethologists and animal wranglers within which all of them thought me a great deal about inter species communication, I am capable to recognize dog language and react accordingly.

You put your own body into danger. Trying to engage with a wolf pack, submitting your body to a special diet in order to feed a young puppy, etc. Are there legal or indeed ethical limits to what an individual can do with their own body?

I am not particularly interested in the ethical limits regarding how an individual would be treating her or his own body, I am more interested in the ethical limits considering one’s own body that are being set by the legal system. Therefore, by submitting myself to the dog-human kinship in K-9_topology projects, I started claiming myself as an agency that does not only inhabit, but becomes the owner of her own body. I needed to do so. For me personally it would be much more compromising had I not executed those projects the way I did.

Maja Smrekar, K-9 topology, at Galerija Kapelica. Photo: Miha Fras

K-9_Topology also raises questions about a “(dystopian) future in which biotechnology can create interspecies.” Are we close to this type of future? Is it a question of science not being yet ready for that? Or is it more a question of ethics, with limits to how much you can manipulate human bodies?

For me it is not about the technological possibilities at all. I think it is mostly a question of here and now, in order to defy fear towards the Other as something completely foreign, by being more emphatic. A simple recognition between two beings as the act of noticing and paying attention is a common thread that connects the core of nearly every living being. That is why in K-9_topology the concept which can be, among other interpretations, read as a speculative fabulation, a dog-human werewolf exists as a reminiscence of an extinct culture of man, to stress that we are in this moment living in an extremely cynical society which desperately lacks empathy. So, I think yet in the post human future the main question to ask ourselves will be: What (still) makes us human?

I’d like to discuss the ”Trust Me, I’m an Artistethics panel event that took place on 16 November 2018 at Waag Society in Amsterdam with the participation of philosophers, a biologist and other experts. What were the main critiques raised by the panelists?

I believe the main concern was whether it was ethical towards my dog companion Ada offering her to consume my colostrum.

And what were the panelists’ conclusions in terms of whether or not art can contribute meaningfully to the discussions around the ethical issues arising from new (bio)technologies?

I think the panelists should answer this question. All I can say is what we can learn from art history, which is that art is definitively beyond any kind of morality. That is why artists are so important, because we are putting the mirror towards the society with our critical thought that enables understanding the criteria for the evaluation of human activity in a specific time and space. That activity is called culture. I am very much aware that there is a certain price that needs to be payed for being an artist, and I am willing to pay it. That is my ethical obligation.

Thanks Maja!

A previous conversation with the artist: Post-anthropocentric art. An interview with Maja Smrekar.

Forensic Fantasies, online scams and the fragilities of IoT. An interview with KairUs

Many of you have probably heard of Agbogbloshie, the biggest and most infamous e-waste dump in the world. That’s where most of the “Western” world’s electronics is (illegally) sent to rest and be dismantled by young people who ruin their health breathing toxic fumes and trying to salvage the precious metals our trash contains.

But our old bits and pieces of hardware don’t just contain copper and gold, they also hold personal, corporate and military information that can be retrieved and used by cyber criminals.

KairUs art collective Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle

The duo KairUs (artists/researchers Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle) traveled to Agbogbloshie in Ghana to investigate the issue of data breaches of private information.

The result of their research is Forensic Fantasies, a trilogy of artworks that use data recovered from hard-drives dumped in Agbogbloshie to answer the question: What happens to our data when we send a computer, an hard disk or any kind of other storage device to the garbage?

Forensic Fantasies trilogy: #2 Identity Theft, exhibited at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2018. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

The first chapter in the series, Not a Blackmail examines the possibility to identify the prior owner of a hard-drive and extort money from them (with emphasis on the word “possibility” they didn’t actually try and ransom the owner!) The second work, Identity Theft, focuses on the fraudulent online profiles created for romance scams. Finally, Found Footage Stalkers uses images retrieved from one of the hard-drives to create photo albums, as a direct reference to the traditional practice of using found footage to create new artworks.

There’s something very disturbing in Forensic Fantasies. The trilogy not only connects us with the after-life of our electronics but it also makes palpable a series of dangers that would otherwise appears far-fetched and abstract to most of us.

KairUs‘s work focuses on human computer and computer-mediated human-human interaction. Since 2010 they have investigated the issue of Internet fraud and online scams. Both of them are currently holding an Assistant Professor position at Woosong University in South Korea where they are also doing research on the vulnerabilities of Internet of Things and Smart Cities.

KairUs have an exhibition right now at Aksioma, everyone’s favourite cultural venue in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The show focuses on the Forensic Fantasies Trilogy but i’d recommend you check out the fascinating talk the duo gave at Aksioma a couple of weeks ago because it not only sums up and comment on the trilogy but also presents the artists’ ongoing research into the weaknesses and pitfalls of the much-hype Internet of Things.

Behind the Smart World: Artist talk by KairUs (Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle) at the Aksioma Project Space in Ljubljana on 14 February 2018

Hi Andreas and Linda! Your work Forensic Fantasies – #1: Not a Blackmail examines the possibility to blackmail the prior owner of a hard-drive. Why did you not send the hard drive back to its owner? What does the letter to the owner say?

A primary motivation to visit Agbogbloshie in the first place was to answer the questions; if it is possible to use or abuse the data on a hard-drive recovered from an e-waste dump. As we had read cases about US senators being blackmailed, company secrets exposed and recovered hard-drives from US military contractors found amongst e-waste in West Africa, we were curious if our e-waste is really such a data breach as these reports were conveying. For us, the artwork ‘Not a Blackmail’ from the ‘Forensic Fantasies’ trilogy is a proof of concept that it is possible to recover data from a hard-drive and with the help of social media profiles track current contact information of the former owner, so that this person can be contacted and then potentially blackmailed. Of course our intention was not to blackmail this person, which is made clear in the title of the artwork (‘Not a Blackmail’).

The whole Forensic Fantasies series is also about the idea of finding something sensitive or valuable on the hard-drives, and until one recovers the data there is always a chance, a fantasy of recollecting something important or of value, even scandalous. Much of the data we recovered and processed would be more or less boring for most of us in an other context, on the other hand the content of a hard-drive might still feel very personal and exposing for its former owner, so how important is it to expose this person? The name of the former owner is exposed through the artwork, but it is still common enough, avoiding a direct link to an individual. Keeping this in mind we have been thinking of ways to deliver the data back to the former owner in a way or another. Just sending the package might evoke a reaction to ignore us, so we are still waiting for opportunities to do it in a more personal way. As the artwork is still exhibited in this speculative format, we also have to think how it will be affected, how the art work changes if we actually manage to deliver the data to the owner.

The letter to the owner basically covers the story how we got our hands on his data, that we found personal and sensitive data on it that a criminal might use against him and that we decided to return the hard-drive to him.

Forensic Fantasies trilogy: #1 ‘Not a blackmail, exhibited at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2018. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Forensic Fantasies trilogy: #1 ‘Not a blackmail, exhibited at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2018. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Forensic Fantasies trilogy: #1 ‘Not a blackmail, exhibited at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2018. Photo: Jure Goršič / Aksioma

One of the issues the trilogy revealed is the peril of not cleaning up or destroying hard drive before getting rid of it. How easy or difficult is it to do so exactly?

To physically destroy a hard-drive is the most secure way of getting rid of the data. There are hard-drive shredders or just drilling holes in the hard-drive is a common practice of companies, that are more aware of leaking data and want to prevent data breaches. One can also open the hard-drive and scratch the disc that contains data.

Of course if you ever saved anything in the cloud your data will be saved on hard-drives somewhere else, often copied on several locations. You will never have access to destroy these hard-drives, so we can only trust that companies have proper workflows of re-using and destroying hard-drives (this aspect also made us more aware of the materiality of the cloud).

Deleting data and emptying the virtual trash bin still allows data recovery. As long as data has not been overwritten by new data at least one time it is quite easy to recover, though recovered data is not organized which makes it more difficult to process. If a hard-drive is meant for re-use experts recommend to overwrite the data several times.

Data forensics have been able to recover data or parts of data in cases that seemed impossible such as broken hard-drives or discs destroyed by water. Yet this type of data rescue is time-consuming, needs special equipment and is expensive, whereas we were more interested in how easy it is to recover data and if data mining with very simple tools is possible at an e-waste dump.

Acquiring hard drives on the e-waste dump. Photo:

Could you tell us about people you met in Ghana who are also very concerned about the topics you are investigating?

What took us to Ghana in the first place is that we have been investigating internet fraud for a longer time in several of our artworks. West Africa is known for certain types of scams, but internet fraud, internet crime and scams in general are a global phenomena. People in Ghana are in general worried how trustworthy they are perceived online. Due to this bad reputation of a few scammers, service providers use the easiest way of dealing with this issue, blocking the IP-range of a whole country to access their webpage. Hence the general population is punished with quite insufficient means because with a bit of advanced knowledge this will not stop a scammer. We talked about this with several people we meet and also internet scam issues are discussed through popular culture, mainly so-called Nollywood films, that are mostly Nigerian and Ghanaian low budget films.

This perspective we try to bring forth in the second part of the trilogy ‘ID theft’ by compiling a found footage film from several Nollywood films dealing with this issue. These films are distributed as DVD’s everywhere in Ghana and are considered a very important channel for West Africans to reflect upon their own culture. Through the films it was also easier for us to discuss these issues with people we met, though in Ghana the scams were often blamed to be done by Nigerians living in Ghana. At the e-waste dump no questions were asked what we want to do with the hard-drives. As far as we talked with the workers there, they salvage and sort valuable metals such as copper cables or computer parts with gold and other metals, processors, hard-drives, etc. These parts are then sold in bulk. Hard-drives are most probably bought in bulk by data rescue companies for their spare parts. In general, mining data from the e-waste dump is probably very marginal and unknown by the general public in Ghana. A bigger concern is the illegal trade of e-waste from the US and Europe that ends up in West Africa.

Map: Global illegal waste traffic

The work involved discussions with other artists about the ethics of using this type of ‘stolen’ material. On the one hand, people have thrown it away so it’s fair game. On the other, personal data is very sensitive. So i’m wondering what these conversations concluded about the ethic of using this data in art works? Is it just a big no no or are there conditions that make it acceptable?

Gathering and bringing back the hard-drives from Ghana was one thing, but what do you do with it and how to share it with other artists? Together with the Linz-based net culture hub we organized an artlab where we invited individuals from a trusted network of EU-based artists to participate in the project. We met in Linz for the “Behind the smart world” research lab, spending together several days to have a look at the data and give time to people to discuss and find ways to work with it.

A central issue was the privacy of the former owners of the hard-drives. Together we found different aspects on the hard-drives interesting and also developed strategies to abstract the data through artistic processes. Experiments were done to sonify folder structures, record booting attempts of the disks themselves, collages of browser cache or ascii renderings of videos and images. There was also participants attending the artlab that decided not to work with the material feeling that they had to compromise their working ethics or concerned that their reputation in handling sensitive material trusted to them would be compromised in the future. We highly respected these individual decisions.

Working with this material the longest we decided to take a more provocative approach in our third artwork Found footage stalkers we unveil the photos from one of the hard-drives, giving very personal insights into the life and habits of its former owners. Flipping trough the photos from parties with friends, trips to amusement parks and Christmas celebrations with the family evoke a similar feeling to stalking someone unknown on social media. Despite the rather uninteresting photo material, one starts to create a story and attach a personality to these fragmented digital representations. By presenting the photos in albums we approach the material as ‘found footage’, the practice of gathering material from thrift shops, yard sales and flea markets for remixing and creating new artworks, something artist have done for generations. Hence the artwork confronts earlier practices of using ‘found footage’ with now digital materials found amongst our trash. In the end, everyone has to decide for themselves how to deal with the data and what do with it. Artworks using the data from the Agbogbloshie hard-drives were shown for the first time in the ‘Behind the Smart World’ exhibition at the Art meets radical openness (AMRO) festival.

Artlab at in Linz, Austria. Photo:

Artlab at in Linz, Austria. Photo:

Forensic Fantasies trilogy: #3 Found footage stalker, exhibited at Aksioma Project Space. Photo: Janez Janša / Aksioma

Your ongoing research in South Korea, titled The Internet of Other People’s Things is, i think, a very relevant and important one because it lays bare the pitfalls of the internet of things, especially when deployed on the scale of a whole city like Songdo. How much awareness is there of that problem in Europe, among city developers, members of the public, tech companies, etc?

South Korea is one of the rapidly developing, tech-driven Asian states, with the second fastest and most connected society in the world, when you look at average internet connection speed and active social media penetration. At the same time, it’s a very young democracy, everything is driven by the government and market with a top-down approach, not focussing on the people who shall live in smart cities or use IoT devices on a daily basis. Cities like Songdo are built from scratch, supported by big tech companies amongst others IBM, CISCO and LG. This hyper-connected urban environments path the way to technocratic governance and city development, corporatization of city governance, technological lock-ins and hackable ‘pan-optic’ cities.

In Europe on the other hand, we see a much more inclusive development where citizens and communities become a vital part of city developments. Citizens are the ultimate actuators of a city. How are citizens involved in co-design collaborations with private corporations and the public sector to build better cities? Around this topics we are working on a publication where we seek submissions from researchers, artists, hackers, makers, activists, developers, and designers that explore vulnerabilities in IoT devices and other embedded systems e.g. in smart cities. We aim to bring artworks, projects, and essays together to create new critical perspectives on ubiquitous technologies. The full open call can be found on our website.

A view over the ‘central park’ of Songdo. Photo:

Not functioning automated vacuum waste collection system in Songdo. Photo:

Could you give a few example of the dangers you see in this massive investment in building ‘smart’ cities out of scratch and implementing IoT in our cities and homes? Do you think it is doomed to fail and be hacked or are there better ways to implement IoT?

Well, there is a couple of thing we were able to observe.

One is what we call the ‘Ruins of a smart city’. With this we imply designs, scenarios and technology that is hyped when a smart city is planned, yet already obsolete or even dysfunctional in the process of building the city. For example in Songdo City there is a central pneumatic waste disposal system. Citizens can activate a smart trash bin with their ID cards and are then able to deposit their garbage in the bins. The trash gets transported at high speed through underground pneumatic tubes to a collection station where it is separated and recycled. The city wants to eliminate the need for garbage pick-up. During a field research together with activists from Seoul-based Unmakelab, we were able to observe that the trash system is not working and piles of trash become part of the urban landscape. On the other hand, residents living in the buildings, that have invested in this infrastructure, now pay for a dysfunctional system.

Due to examples like this, Songdo has been criticized to be a prototype city or a test bed of technologies. For us, this shows that from a citizen perspective important questions to ask are actually maintenance, openness and sustainability of the technology one is intended to live with. The technological development progresses so rapidly and specially from a city planning perspective where 5-10 years later, many ideas they had envisioned for Songdo are unpractical or not used by the citizens.

A system that is praised in the advertisement material of Songdo is that each home is equipped with multiple screens that allows telepresence with other homes or institutions such as hospitals or schools. This is an idea developed before the times of mobile internet usage, which city really needs a stationary video telepresence infrastructure now? Other observations were non-functioning sensors paved into the streets and lamp posts. We documented this failed implementations also to point out the materiality of the “smart technologies” in a city.

Another thing we have became aware of is that through these massive smart city projects the city is increasingly being corporatized. Songdo is owned by three companies Gale International, Posco and Morgan Stanley. Further on cities naturally make contracts with technology companies who also end up owning wast amounts of citizen data.

We want to understand what kind challenges emerges when technotopian cities are not populated with their imagined tech-savvy international citizens. Who is included, who is excluded when we talk about smart cities? On the other hand, how do actual residents reshape, redesign, misuse or opt out from technological lock-ins?

Until now we have been mostly concentrating on Songdo which is categorized as a first generation smart city, followed by several generations that gradually starts to consider the citizen also in planning. Also the term ‘smart city’ has been widely contested while it represents diverse values, solutions and implementations depending on context.

Further on when we investigate ‘smart cities’ we are looking at those current and future scenarios in which our things are wirelessly connected, so Internet of Things. We do not think that IoT is doomed, but we see that designs are far from being sustainable, privacy respecting and somewhat secure. We are not against the development of IoT per se, though we are also not convinced that the proposed technologies that are branded ‘smart’ are best practices of solving the problems they intend to tackle.

Panopticity: ‘Seoul’ video screenshot. Photo:

How an attacker runs DDoS attacks on a victim’s IP camera

Could you explain the first work you did in that research, the city portrait of Seoul through insecure public CCTV and private IP cameras?

Cities, companies and private persons use networked security cameras often including tracking software for their surveillance. Various brands offer products with integrated web-server allowing remote processing and streaming of the video footage, adding these devises to the growing amount of connected devices. These web-servers are often ‘insecure by design’, meaning they are not protected by a password or have hard-coded login credentials saved as plain text. By default, the servers stream unencrypted and on publicly-accessible network ports, providing potential risks of being intercepted and allowing unknown third parties unintended access to the set up function of the cameras. Some manufacturers use the same vulnerable settings across their entire camera lineup.

“By default, the Network Camera is not password-protected”, or “the default user name is admin” and “the password is 12345” can be read in the camera manuals. We recorded video footage from these web streams and assembled it into a city portrait through the lenses of unsecured video cameras. The experimental video is currently touring film festivals and we are finishing a video installation that portrays mega-cities around the world through their unsecured video cameras. Paradoxically the security camera becomes a security risk. We are also fascinated to see what is surveilled around the world in the name of security.

KairUs, Forensic Fantasies. Artists talk at Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2018. Photo: Jure Goršič / Aksioma

This is probably a stupid question but i have to ask it: why are you called KairUs?

Back in 2010 when we started our artistic collaboration we were clear that we want to work with time-based interactive installation art. We adapted the ancient greek word ‘Kairos’ (καιρός) meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment. Whereas the western definition of time ‘chronos’ is purely quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature. As artists we look for these opportune moments for our artistic expression, it encourages creativity, to adapt to unforeseen obstacles and opinions that can alter opportune or appropriate moments to produce art.

Thanks Linda and Andreas!

KairUs (Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle)’s solo exhibition Forensic Fantasies is at Aksioma | Project Space in Ljubljana until 16 March 2018.

And should you be a researcher, artist, hacker, maker, activist, developers or designer whose work and/or writing explores the vulnerabilities in IoT devices and other embedded systems, then have a look at this open call for submissions (deadline is 30 April 2018.)

Related stories: Permanent Error, e-waste, porn, ecology & warfare. An interview with Dani Ploeger, When erased data come back to haunt you and Harvesting the Rare Earth.