Category Archives: money

Superflex. We Are All in the Same Boat

SUPERFLEX. We Are All in the Same Boat, with texts by curator Jacob Fabricius, urban geographer Stephanie Wakefield, curator Gean Moreno, Professor of Latin American Studies George Yudice and science-fiction writer Mark von Schlegell. Published by Hatje Cantz.

On amazon USA and UK.

Summary of the book: The critically-acclaimed Danish artist group SUPERFLEX, founded in 1993 by Jakob Fenger (b. 1968), Bjørnstjerne Christiansen (b. 1969), and Rasmus Nielsen (b. 1969), create humorous and playfully subversive installations and films that deal with financial crisis, corruption, migration, and the possible consequences of global warming. The artists describe their practice as the provision of “tools” that affect or influence social or economic contexts, and often root their projects in particular local situations, inviting the participation of viewers. Their work poses questions of political, economic, and environmental behavior and responsibility. This catalogue accompanies the group’s first major museum survey in the United States and highlights video, sculpture, and installation works relevant to the history, present, and future of cities like Miami, poised on the leading edge of pressing issues such as climate change and immigration.


SUPERFLEX, Flooded McDonald’s, 2008

I saw SUPERFLEX’s Flooded McDonald’s many years ago. The film is set inside the life-size replica of a deserted McDonald´s fastfood gradually flooding with water. At first, the idea sounded funny. But as water was rising so was the tension. The film heralded a time when nothing, perhaps not even the most brutal forms of capitalism, would be able to interrupt the effects of climate change.

It was 2008 and the film was not only premonitory, it was also pure SUPERFLEX. It weaved together darkness and the humour, pop culture and environmental anguish, capitalism and provocation, etc.

Over time, the artists have realized bold works that confront some of modern society’s most unsavoury aspects with free goods, free beers, resistance to social control, calls for solidarity and of course tools! They are one of the very few artists whose works you can encounter in fancy art museums, in agricultural areas, in ordinary commercial shops, in the street or in a Turkish restaurant.


SUPERFLEX, Foreigners, please don’t leave us alone with the Danes, 2002

SUPERFLEX. We Are All in the Same Boat is the publication that accompanies the exhibition of the same name at the Museum of Art and Design at Miami Dade College (MOAD) in Miami.

It’s not a catalogue. That would be too boring for SUPERFLEX. It’s a little volume that opens on pages and pages printed in blue and white. The kind of blue you associate with Miami. The kind of blue of the water you imagine will one day wipe Florida off the map if we continue to respond to environmental urgency with indifference and inefficient measures. The pages are printed with photo documentation of SUPERFLEX works. The essays don’t start before page 143. They are worth the wait.

Professor of Latin American Studies George Yudice pens a fascinating essay that places SUPERFLEX’s work in the context of the city of Miami. As you read his text (and the ones of the other contributors) you realize why Miami is the perfect setting for a SUPERFLEX exhibition. The city presents many of the problems that characterize our times: immigration, tax havens, inequality, gentrification, money laundering, climate change, narcotraffic, etc. Anything you can find in big cities seem to grow in an exacerbated, almost vexing, way under the Miami sun.

Urban geographer Stephanie Wakefield and curator Gean Moreno explore a contemporary art economy in which artworks are regarded as a commodity. They posit that the tools that SUPERFLEX proposes have the potential to open up new spaces of possibilities: they can be used as incitements, provocations, gift and instruments to fight against forms of enslavement.

Science-fiction writer Mark von Schlegell gives us a glimpse of one of the future versions of Miami. We’re in 2099, the main protagonist of his short-story lives on a houseboat in Miami, an independent entity cut from mainland USA by sea rise. Against all odds and floods, the city has managed to to reinvent itself and keep its hedonistic lifestyle. Adaptation to the new aquatic condition of the city are shrewd, ecological (if that’s still a concept in 2099) but, as undersea wedding chapels linked to human trafficking demonstrate, the new version of Miami has lost nothing of its dark edge.

If you love SUPERFLEX’s work as much as i do and you’re curious about life on a planet that’s lost most of its coastline but none of its resourcefulness then you might enjoy this little publication.

Here’s a a handful of works from SUPERFLEX:


SUPERFLEX, Hospital Equipment, 2014. Photo: Mr. Ali Shahin

Hospital Equipment is a piece of “readymade upside-down.” The artist sourced and delivered operating theatre equipment to hospitals in conflict areas. The surgical equipment is first displayed as installation in a gallery. When the exhibition ends, the equipment is shipped directly to a selected hospital in a conflict zone to be used as potentially lifesaving medical instrument by doctors and nurses, rather than works of art to be contemplated. The photographic documentation of the installation remains with the collector who purchased the work. The first equipment was sent to a hospital in Gaza. The second one to a hospital in the western Syrian city of Salamiyah.


SUPERFLEX, Experience climate change as a Cockroach, Copenhagen, 2009. Graphic design by Rasmus Koch Studio

As part of the official cultural program in connection with the UN Global Climate Summit in Copenhagen 2009, SUPERFLEX offered a group session in which participants were hypnotized in order to perceive the climate change as cockroach. Five more sessions were planned to happen on different locations concerning different animals.


SUPERFLEX, The Fermentation Act, 2016. Photo: Keizo Kioku. Courtesy: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa


SUPERFLEX, The Fermentation Act, 2016. Photo: Keizo Kioku. Courtesy: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

Water is drawn from the air in the exhibition space, collected and heated with tea. The tea is then fermented with sugar the kombucha fungus. After the fermentation process, the liquid is poured into glass jars and stored on shelves. Depending on the type of tea used, the colours and flavours vary and create a museum of colourful teas produced from human body perspiration.


SUPERFLEX, Free Shop (Family Mart, Tokyo), 2003

Free Shop takes place in an ordinary shop, anything purchased in the shop by any given customer, on the days of the performance, is free of charge. Shoppers are not made aware of the “promotion” until they arrive at the till. Free Shop has been held in Germany, Japan, Poland, Denmark and Norway.


SUPERFLEX, Today we do not use the word ‘Dollars’, 2009

A contract was established between the artists and an Auckland based branch of the ANZ bank that required any staff member to pay one dollar to their staff social fund every time she or he used the word “dollar”. The contract, signed by the bank manager and SUPERFLEX, was printed, framed and displayed in the staff room for the duration of the day.


SUPERFLEX, Kwassa Kwassa (Still image from the film), 2015


SUPERFLEX, Power Toilets / UN (A copy of the toilets from the United Nations Security Council headquarters, New York installed in Park van Luna, Heerhugowaard for public use), 2010. Photo: Superflex


SUPERFLEX, We Are All In The Same Boat, 2018

The book is co-published by the Museum of Art and Design at Miami Dade College (MOAD) which is running SUPERFLEX: We Are All in the Same Boat, a survey of the artists’ work that you can visit until 21 April 2019 if you’re lucky enough to be in the neighbourhood.

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy

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

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

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

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


Lenara Verle, The Currency Lab game

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Trentmann, A world of consumers

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

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

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

Economia: Methods for Reclaiming Economy

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

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

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

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


Lenara Verle, The Currency Lab game

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Trentmann, A world of consumers

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

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

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

How the humble sweatpants became “critical wearables”

While in Brussels last month, i went to BOZAR to see Somewhere In Between, an exhibition that “provides a unique window on today’s artistic hotbeds of Europe.” I found the show to be surprisingly good. There were moments when i despaired that i’d never truly understand contemporary art. And moments when i got happy, excited and genuinely amazed. I was particularly impressed with a row of sweatpants neatly aligned on one of the walls of the exhibition space.


Life Sport, Sweatpants at BOZAR. Installation view


LIFE SPORT, with Puppies Puppies. Photo: Life Sport

The garments are by LIFE SPORT, an anonymous art collective that sells (mostly) grey sweatpants at a reasonable price to anyone in need of a leisure item. The artists then invest the money earned in exhibitions they organize with other artists.

The work of the art collective is fueled by the city where they are based: Athens. The members of LIFE SPORT noticed that in the Greek capital, sweatpants act as a great equalizer. No matter their social class, gender or age, people wear sweatpants in Athens. But there’s also a political side to grey sweatpants. To some, they evoke nothing but unemployment and disorder.


LIFE SPORT, Sweatpants Production. Image Life Sport

The model LIFE SPORT chose for its sweatpants is not a random one, it is based on a pair of Nikes from the 90s, a time when the American corporation still produced garments in Greece (before they moved to Asia where labour costs are much lower.) A pair costs 35 euros. You can buy them online or in LIFE SPORT hybrid space in Athens, it is both an art gallery and a sweatpants shop. As the artists explained in an interview with Dis Magazine:

“We are utilizing the art system that we are part of to sell our product and we use their formats to advertise our brand. Dealing with sweatpants opposed to artworks allows for a less abstract relation. The prices are based on what we get charged by our producers in Athens, the material plus labour cost. Sweatpants are so easy, people understand them without needing to engage further with LIFE SPORT or the ideas we are invested in. It feels good to be part of a more inclusive market.”

I think LIFE SPORT is onto something. Something brilliant. First of all because LIFE SPORT can be seen as an exercise in exploring the role that art can play in a local social context. By locating the production in Athens, LIFE SPORT invests in the local economy while addressing the global forces that have so deeply impacted it.

The other obvious reason why i’m so enthusiastic about LIFE SPORT is that the model allows them to bypass traditional forms of art funding. They remain part of the art world but do not need to rely on traditional (and shrinking) public arts funding or on the dictates of the commercial gallery model.


Stefanos Mandrake, Black on black, 2016. Installation view


LIFE SPORT, with CALM BALM. Photo: Life Sport


LIFE SPORT, with Bonnie. Photo: Life Sport


LIFE SPORT, with Micha. Photo: Life Sport

Somewhere in Between. Contemporary Art Scene in Europe remains open at BOZAR in Brussels until 19 August 2018.

5 things i learnt at Forum Paradigm_Shift in Geneva last month

Back in May, i was in Geneva to attend the Forum Paradigm_Shift #2. The event, which was part of the audiovisual and digital art festival Mapping, investigated the theme “Humans + Machines by Design, not by Default”.

Forum Paradigm_Shift, Mapping Festival 2018 at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini

The artists, designers, curators, scientists and philosophers invited delved into technodiversity, contemporary utopias and dystopias, the future of money, Glitch Feminism and cultural resistance, and the human-technology relationship from an artistic, philosophical and scientific point of view. This program, which had been curated by Carmen Salas, might sound a bit haphazard but it made for an exhilarating and thought-provoking day. Each of the speakers challenged, in their own way, dominant discourses around progress, technology, future and hybridity.

The videos of the keynotes and panels are online. Unfortunately, they seem to be available on facebook only so far. I’d still recommend you check them out because they build up a much-needed picture of some of the ethical and cultural reflections that surround digital technology today.

1. Cash is not dead


Rachel O’Dwyer at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

Rachel O’Dwyer‘s presentation Cash or Cache: What is your money saying about you? dissected the emerging politics around transactional data. She explained how the push for a cashless society on the part of states and platforms is creating new forms of business models based on data, not fees. Which of course entails new forms of discrimination and of surveillance but also new practices of resistance. Her talk was fascinating. I was particularly interested in her comments about how cash, though it doesn’t record traces of transactions anymore, can teach us a lot about the way paper money mediates social relationships as it moves from hand to hand. I liked the research made by Dirk Brockmann, a physicist from Humboldt University of Berlin.


Dirk Brockmann/Northwestern University. Image via NPR

A few years ago, Brockmann used the dollar bill tracking website Where’s George to visualize migratory patterns of banknotes. His map of those patterns of money exchanges shows how money moves and thus where American citizens go/don’t go and where they make or don’t make business. This builds a new geography of the U.S. with internal borders that disintegrate while others are almost never crossed.

2. Everything is NOT gonna be alright


Julian Oliver and Crystelle Vu, Extinction Gong, installed in the Tieranatomisches Theatre, Berlin, as part of The World as Forest (travelling exhibition, 2018). Photo by Anexact Office


Workers on tractors harvest soybeans in the deforested land of Campo Novo do Parecis, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Photograph: Maurilio Cheli/AP, via The Guardian


Julian Oliver at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

The panel Beyond The Utopia-Dystopia Mindset, moderated by curator Daphne Dragona, took us in a very different direction. The panelists were artist and critical engineer Julian Oliver and designer Tobias Revell.

Oliver defied everyone’s expectations by not talking about his artistic work nor any of the issues his presentations usually explore (data forensics, creative hacking, counter-surveillance, etc.) Instead, he gave us a crash course in the Anthropocene: from the 6th extinction (the extent of which the work Extinction Gong reveals in a simple and poignant way) to how our meat-based diet is responsible for 60% of global biodiversity loss; from deforestation to the text World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.

His intervention might look at odds with what is usually discussed at digital art festivals but, as his talk also made clear, we can’t disconnect technology from the fate of our planet. To put it in words so blunt even cold-hearted utilitarians would understand, our resources in metals are not infinite (the digital world still relies on a very physical and very energy-hungry infrastructure) and we need insects, animals and plants to perform all sorts of services for us.

Oliver believes that we are in front of a narration challenge when it comes to the ongoing planetary crisis. On the one hand, he quoted, “We’re always preparing for the apocalypse we want” (author unknown). Black Mirror turned this desired apocalypse into dinner table conversations. In the episodes of the scifi series, humans are shown as resilient, cunning and ever resourceful beings.

Techno-centric discourses are not helping either. ‘Reverse climate change” is a delusion, things will not roll back to where things were on earth even if we manage to drop a few degrees back down. Things have already changed. Mass extinction is already well upon us for example.

What we need right now are realistic conversations about the future. They will not have the same feel good effects as techno-fix proposals such as the one that postulates that we only need to suck CO2 from the air in order to stop climate change. These conversations might even be a bit pessimistic but, as Derrick Jensen writes: Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

Julian Oliver concluded that now is the time for artists and designers to react and embrace planetary crisis as a challenge. We need them to tell stories that would play a key role in propagating a new planetary subjectivity and shape a more realistic, more comprehensive ‘understanding as to how our chains of production and supply interact with both biosphere and climate.’

3. Understanding technology also means being ill-mannered towards it


Tobias Revell at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

In his contribution to the panel, Tobias Revell made a few fascinating points about using computer-generated imagery (CGI) for purposes that were not intended by the developers. Do check out his talk, it’s packed with interesting insights about strategy of breaking through the technology. I’ll just mention the ones that stuck with me long after the conference:

Nikita Diakur, Ugly Dynamics (Fest), 2018

Ugly Dynamics is a series of works in which Nikita Diakur explores CGI potential to create what he calls the “digital grotesque”. His renderings deconstruct the software and the physics that go into it, breaking apart the engine and revealing how it is made.

As Creative Applications writes: Nikita goes through a number of examples, showing how different dynamics affect models as well as produce very unexpected results. In some cases it is simply because the system doesn’t know how to deal with the set task and in another producing a beautiful result in this alter-reality worlds dictated by these rule based systems.


Screenshot from Dark Souls – SPEED RUN (0:26:58) with resets [Xbox 360]

Revell also introduced me to Speedrunning, a huge gaming subculture with videos that can get millions of views. The aim of speedrunning is to complete a video game as fast as possible. You don’t have to complete all the steps in the game, you don’t need to follow the narratives and rules set by the developers, you just have to get to the end as quickly as possible.

Speed runners play with the rules of the architecture that constructs the game, exploiting its glitches, loopholes, frame rate drops, bending the software and hardware to their will. To be a good speedrunner, you don’t need to be a good player. You need to have a nuanced understanding on how the world you live in is built and how it operates.

4. #GLITCHFEMINISM can help us decolonize the architecture of the body


Legacy Russell at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

Legacy Russell’s talk ‘URL IRL’ examined Glitch Feminism! Russel is a writer, an artist, a cultural producer and a glitch feminist. She is particularly interested in how the Internet (and the artists activating it) can be harnessed for creative resistance. Glitch Feminism is a cultural manifesto and movement that aims to use the digital as a means of resisting the hegemony of the corporeal. She defines #GLITCHFEMINISM as “a creative and political exploration of how the material the internet can expand -or glitch- the construct of the binary body. it deploys the language of ‘glitch’ in positing that an error within the flawed machine we operate within one that disproportionately enacts violence on historical ‘OTHERED’ bodies – is not an error at all, but rather an integral systems correction to the mechanics of culture and society as we know it.”

Internet is thus a space that asserts the violence against female and queer people and people of colour but it is also a place that allows them to defy and resist that violence.

Her first book ‘Glitch Feminism’ will be published by Verso at the end of the year.

5. Bodies are restless, open and, as such, should dispute the normal


Panel discussion ‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Marco Donnarumma at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


Marco Donnarumma at Paradigm Shift, Mapping Festival in Geneva

The panel on Minds, Bodies and the Machine, moderated by the brilliant Rosario Hurtado, looked at how artists, designers and scientists respond to advances in the field of human-machine-interaction.

Marco Donnarumma, an artist and scholar investigating the relationships between body, sound and technology, kicked his presentation with images of purification rituals called skin cutting and ended up surprising me by adopting a feminist position.

Skin cutting rituals are performed in several parts of the world but the one the artist showed us is performed in Papua New Guinea. Deep cuts are made in the backs, arms, chest and buttocks of young men. The patterns adopted and the method of treating the wounds aim to sculpt the scars so that they remain raised when healed and make the skin look like the one of a crocodile, an animal the Kaningara worship.

The reason why Donnarumma’s practice explores these rituals so closely is that, according to him, they act as a gateway to think about how different societies establish criteria for what constitutes a normal body. In the case of the Kaningara tribesmen from PNG, a ‘standardized’ body allows men to hunt, get married and perform expected roles in society.

The problem with the ‘normal’ is that its definition is generally established by those in power.

Today, we’ve developed different and often more technology-mediated ways to define what’s normal. What hasn’t changed is that, again, the norms of the normal are being prescribed by those in power.

A clear example of that is Hiroshi Ishiguro‘s female android Erica. She is very pretty, very young, she is slim, has big lips, smooth skin and a fine nose. She is the epitome of a woman built by a man. What is regarded as normal for woman is thus reinforced by technology, disseminated in media and ends up being what our kids identify as being normal.

That’s why Donnarumma’s work explores alternative forms of embodiment. By creating tangible speculations about what different bodies can be, he hopes that something will be triggered in the mind of the viewers and that it will open gates onto ideas and counter cultures able to untie what we regard as normal.

Over the past 4 years, he has been working on what he calls “configurations” which are various types of assemblages of humans and machines.

Marco Donnarumma, Amygdala MK3

His Amygdala work for example is and artificially intelligent robotic limb that has been programmed to perceive its own body, respond to unforeseen reactions from others and cut its own skin, in a way inspired by the purification ritual of “skin-cutting”.


Marco Donnarumma, Eingeweide, a work in progress

The next step for Amygdala is to be part of Eingeweide, a ritual of coalescence in which the machine is attached to the artist’s body for a performance during which the two of them are searching for their own joint, bodily identity, a process which makes the distinction between them, between flesh and circuits, muscles and wires blurred and undefined.

For Donnarumma, it is important to abuse technology and use it to destroy traditional ideas of what constitutes the normal.

During the short debate at the end of the panel, he also had a few meaningful words about the necessity to think about who owns the tech that will change our bodies.

More images from Forum Paradigm_Shift #2:


‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Jürg Lehni, at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


Minds, Bodies & The Machine panel discussion with Prof. David Rudrauf. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Prof. David Rudrauf, at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini


‘Minds, Bodies and the Machine’ at Mapping Festival 2018 — with Susanna Hertrich at HEAD Genève – Nouveau Campus. Photo (c) Stéphane Pecorini

Offshore tour operators, lithium landscapes and other things i discovered at MUTEK_IMG

A few weeks ago (two months ago actually but who counts?), i participated to MUTEK_IMG, the forum on current practices in digital creation at the Phi Centre in Montreal.

Sherry Kennedy and Greg J. Smith from HOLO magazine curated five of the panels in the programme. I missed one because jetlag but otherwise i got to hear some very interesting and, at times, provocative ideas about artificial intelligence, post-truth media, human-machine choreographies and automated storytelling tools. MUTEK_IMG could have been an event that uncritically extols the glories and wonders of digital technology. It wasn’t, or at least it wasn’t just that. In Montreal, i found food for thought, intelligent comments on tech and creativity and a desire to share some of that with you.

Here are 7 ideas i discovered at the festival:

1. The house next door might be part of the tax haven landscape


RYBN. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

One of the members of RYBN.ORG, the French collective that uncovers the darkest and most esoteric aspects of finance, technologies and information, participated to the Automation Rules Everything Around Me panel. She also made a very brief intervention later on in an event in which she presented the groups’ Offshore Tour Operator project.


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. Alain, Renée, Samuel, 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. Alain, Renée, Samuel, 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. M, K, Valérie P., 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN


Basel Cross-Border Workshop data visualisation. M, K, Valérie P., 21st january 2018. Photo: RYBN

As part of an inquiry into tax avoidance and other tricks of the finance industry, RYBN organizes workshops in which participants are invited to literally walk through the offshore layer of their neighbourhood. “Offshore Tour Operator” is a psycho-geographic project that guides participants through the local addresses that appear in the panama papers database.

Equipped with a compass and a camera, participants have to find the physical locations of the shell companies, the ghosts addresses, mailboxes and other locations that compose the offshore network. Once in front of the building, they take pictures of the location, and, when possible, leave a message through the letter box.

If you are curious about the work, check out Aude Launay’s fascinating conversation with RYBN on ZeroDeux.

2. Criminalizing wealth is not on top of cities agenda


Brian Clifton, Sam Lavigne and Francis Tseng, White Collar Crime Risk Zones, March 2017

Artist and programmer Sam Lavigne gave us a quick tour of his projects during the panel titled Digital Art for a Post-Truth Reality.

I particularly liked White Collar Crime Risk Zones which uses machine learning to predict where financial crimes are mostly likely to occur across the US.

A similar system is used by police forces already but it focuses only on street crimes. The problems with predictive policing, as it has been applied so far, is that it often results in bias and a disproportionate targeting of impoverished communities of colour.

White Collar Crime Risk Zones is different though: it shows white collar crime, and not “street” crime. The software identifies locations with “risk likelihood” for crimes like unauthorized trading, insider dealing or breach of fiduciary duty and flags them as potential financial crime hotspots. Using profile photos of financial executives on the LinkedIn database, the work also shows a computer-generated image of what the “most likely suspect” looks like. He’s very white and very male!

The artist emailed mayors across the U.S. to inform them that WCCRZ could be a useful tool for crime-fighting. Sadly, alas, the answers he received indicate that catching and punishing members of poorer communities is much higher on their agenda.

3. How did i miss the memo on lithium?

City Everywhere by Liam Young (Lecture Performance) at MUTEK_IMG 2018


Liam Young/Unknown Fields, August 2015. Llipi, Bolivia’s first lithium production plant built on the world’s largest lithium deposit, the Salar De Uyuni. Photo via


Kate Davies and Liam Young/Unknown Fields, August 2015. Salar De Atacama. Photo via

In his City Everywhere keynote, speculative architect Liam Young looked at the diffusion of urban architecture. The architecture of today’s cities, far from being circumscribed to a limited perimeter, is built on a planetary-scale and densely-networked infrastructure. Young’s performance gave us a brief but affecting view of some of the minerals, innovations and mechanisms our modern life relies on. Most of them appear to be fragile and beyond anyone’s control. One of the aspects the video he showed us looked at the environmental cost of “clean” energy. In order to free ourselves from fossil fuels, we will have to increase the mining of lithium, a metal crucial for battery-powered technologies such as smartphones, laptops, electric cars, etc.

“Lithium-ion battery production is forecast to double to eight billion cells by 2025,” writes DW. “And the world price for lithium carbonate has almost doubled in a short span of time to about $13,000 per ton. A new analysis indicates that, without proper planning, there could be short-term bottlenecks in the supplies of some metals, particularly lithium and cobalt, that could cause temporary slowdowns in lithium-ion battery production.”

Young and his nomadic research studio Unknown Fields traveled to ‘the lithium triangle’: Bolivia (a country claimed to hold more lithium than anywhere on Earth), Argentina and Chile.

4. Coding suffers from linguistic imperialism

Ryan Stec, the artistic director of artengine in Ottawa, presented Artificial Imagination, a symposium about creativity in the age of algorithm, artificial intelligence and machine learning. And the two main things i remember from his talks are 1. the videos of the symposium are on vimeo. 2. the english language is fundamental to coding. According to him, the prevalence of english keeps the colonial axis alive.

5. Getting rid of enduring colonial influences can be a creative endeavour


Andre Baynes and Chiedza Pasipanodya from Hacking Black Futures. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK


Ashley Jane Lewis, Tree Tank, 2018. Photo

Andre Baynes and Chiedza Pasipanodya are the curators of Hacking Black Futures, an exhibition that took place at BAND [Black Artists Network Dialogue] in Toronto a few weeks ago. The duo described how their exhibition used design to speculate about Black-centric, post-capitalist societies. The participating projects explored how such societies would tackle problems that plague today’s world. No idea how they’d deal with coding but a future (hopefully?) edition of Hacking Black Futures might investigate the issue.

6. No one can resist a Gay Roman army

The panel Searching for Digital Aesthetics’ ‘Unknown Unknowns’ was particularly entertaining:


Alan Warburton. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

Especially Alan Warburton‘s talk. I had heard of his work but never looked into it. Now i will. He’s brilliant. Here are just two of the works i found particularly moving and smart:

Alan Warburton, Training Camp, 2016

The film Training Camp applies a motion capture file labelled “Gay” in a online mocap library to a Roman soldier and then to an army of Roman soldiers.


Alan Warburton, Dust Bunny, 2015


Alan Warburton, Dust Bunny, 2015

Dust Bunny is a sculpture made of angora-like dust the artist harvested from the inside of ten 3D animation workstations at visual effects studio Mainframe in England.

Dust Bunny articulates a particular inversion that occurs between the real and the virtual: in the real world we seek to banish dust and dirt to optimise functionality, in CGI we labouriously reintroduce it at great cost – complex simulations, layered pseudo-random noise algorithms and intricately constructed 3D models seek to emulate the photographic, chaotic, infinitely dusty real world.

7. We’re ready to believe anything for love or a good headline


Tega Brain. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

Smell Dating Press Clips


Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, Smell Dating, 2016

Tega Brain took us through the depth of media gullibility with Smell Dating. A couple of years ago, she collaborated with Sam Lavigne to launch a matchmaking service built around body odour. You register, receive a T-shirt and wear it for three days. You’re not supposed to use deodorant nor perfume during that time. After that, you mail it back to the dating service and in return you receive 10 samples cut from the T-shirts of other participants. You sniff to your heart’s content, and once you’ve chosen your scent match, you get the phone numbers of your future dates.

It was a participatory art project and installation. As the video above demonstrates, mainstream media didn’t seem to have processed the ‘art’ element of the project. They laughed a lot during the news segments but in the end, they took the idea very very seriously.

For more info about the panels, check out Creative Applications‘ report Inventing the Future at MUTEK_IMG.


MUTEK_IMG audience. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK


Greg J. Smith from HOLO Magazine. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK


Daito Manabe. Photo: Bruno Destombes for MUTEK

Secrets of Trade. Goldin+Senneby on magic, finance and art market predictions


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Goldin+Senneby use strategies and tools inspired by the financial sector to dissect the late-capitalist system, interrogate its mythologies and expose its connections with areas as diverse as virtual identities, precarious labour in the art sector or even alchemy. Goldin+Senneby is “a framework for collaboration”, its projects often use the skills and knowledge of experts in the fields they are investigating. These collaborators might be computer engineers, magicians, economists, anthropologists or playwrights.

The NOME gallery in Berlin has recently opened a solo show of the artists duo. Titled Secrets of Trade, the exhibition presents key works from Goldin+Senneby’s recent interrogations of financial trading, the art market, and artificial intelligence.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the works in the show:


Goldin+Senneby, Art Aligns With Young Readers, 2017. From the series Force Directed Predictions


Goldin+Senneby, Force Directed Predictions. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Correlation maps generated by algorithms trained on art market data (Force Directed Predictions). The maps visualize art price fluctuations as they relate to macro political and economic factors such as employment rates and literacy. One shows only positive correlations and the other only negative correlations.


Goldin+Senneby, Zero Magic, 2016. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

For Zero Magic, the artist duo infiltrated a secretive hedge fund in the US, reverse engineered its methods and recreated its short selling practices. This practice consists in selling shares that one does not own to buy it back once it has fallen in price, netting a profit in the process. Which sounds pretty baffling for someone like me. Indeed there’s something akin to magic here. It’s about ‘adjusting’ people’s perception of reality, making them see things that do not exist. It doesn’t take place on a stage though but in the more secretive context of the financial markets.

In collaboration with the magician Malin Nilsson and finance sociologist Théo Bourgeron, Goldin+Senneby developed and patented a magic trick for the financial markets that has the capacity to undermine the perceived value of a publicly traded company and to profit from this. The magic gimmick consists in a computer program that help non-experts identify suitable short selling targets, and a step-by-step guide to undermining their perceived value and executing thus a successful short sale. Goldin+Senneby put the Zero Magic computer software inside a magic box that also contains a US Patent Application for Computer Assisted Magic Trick Executed in the Financial Markets and four historical examples of magic tricks played out offstage, in real life.

Nilsson will be performing a magic demonstration on the last night of the exhibition (this way to RSVP!)


Goldin+Senneby, Momentum Trading Strategy. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery


Goldin+Senneby, Momentum Trading Strategy. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Goldin+Senneby acquired a series of confidential trading strategies in exchange for artworks. These ‘tricks of the trade’ are bound in files and sealed in glass boxes. The content remain a mystery to the viewer, only cover illustrations by designer Johan Hjerpe might give us a clue since they visually interpret the main dynamics of the strategies.


Goldin+Senneby, Banca Rotta (Central Europe, Late Baroque, oak), 2012/2017. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

There’s also an antique money changers’ table broken in two. The piece of furniture is a visual representation of the etymology of “bankruptcy”, which derives from banca rotta, the Italian word for broken bench, the bench that moneylenders worked from and that had to be broken when they were no longer in business.

I’ve written time and time again about Goldin+Senneby‘s work. But i’ve never met them. Nor have i ever had the chance to fire a few questions at them. Until now:

Hi Goldin+Senneby! To be honest with you, I’m a bit worried about this interview. While preparing it, i read a story in rhizome that says: “In previous interviews the artists have responded to questions about the project exclusively in the form of quotes from its various parts. For the interview below, however, they produced some new statements, perhaps mindful of the opportunity to recycle them in future incarnations of Headless.” Is that a strategy you have kept on using since that 2009 rhizome interview?

No. This was one of our strategies used in the Headless project – an eight year long performance (2007-2015) staging an “act of withdrawal”.

Goldin+Senneby works with people who sometimes have rather surprising profiles: a magician, an investment banker, an academic social scientist, a patent attorney, an anthropologist, etc. How do you work with them? How much say do they have in the process that leads to a final work?

We try to produce situations in which our (willing and unwilling) collaborators can “act as themselves”. We think of our practice as a distribution of agency within authored frameworks. The clearer the frame we are able to provide, the more agency can be handed over.

Attaching a slide from a “progress report” produced by management consultant Aliceson Robinson in 2011, where she interviewed 12 individuals who had played key roles in our project The Nordenskiöld Model (2010-2017), but notably not ourselves.


Progress Report

The show at NOME Gallery will feature the magic demonstration Acid Money. Could you tell us what will happen? Will it feature the magic trick for the financial markets that you patented?

Yes, the magic demonstration will feature our trick for the financial markets (patent pending) and how we appropriated the methods for this trick from a secretive hedge fund. It will also offer an opportunity to bring some magic with you home!

One of the works you will be showing at the Berlin gallery is Force Directed Predictions. From what i gathered online, the series is based on a system that uses big data and AI to predict art prices. Do algorithms really play such a key role when it comes to predicting art prices? How did we get there?

In the context of a gallery show we were interested in the possibility of offering art market predictions as artworks. So on one level the idea is straightforward: to offer meta-data about collecting to collectors.

And because the learning process of the AI we are working with looks at art price fluctuations in relation to a wide range of macro political and economic indicators (10k+ correlating factors) it also produces portraits of the kind of society in which the art market thrives or declines respectively.

These works are the beginning of a longer process. We are collaborating with XLabs.ai and one of their artificial intelligences that has been surprisingly good at predicting “black swan” events in other areas (such as unexpected civil unrest, large jumps in commodity prices, etc). When we got into contact with XLabs, they were just about to discontinue the use of this AI, since they were disillusioned with their customer base – the only customers that were able and willing to pay for these kinds of predictions were either hedge funds or authoritarian states, and they were not interested in selling their services to either of these categories.

So you figured out how to predict art prices, how to use magic and patents to perform financial manipulations…. Why do you feel that you need to bring this knowledge into the art world? That’s very generous of course but if i were you, i’d use all those tricks and know-how to get ultra rich and ultra idle.

In this sense we are not sure that we are bringing anything to the art world that isn’t already there. Clearly, much of the art sector is bound up with the “ultra rich and ultra idle”, as you put it. For us an important question is how to deal with this position of implication.


Goldin+Senneby. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery


Goldin+Senneby, VWAP Mean Reversion Strategy with Professor Donald MacKenzie and Philip Grant, 2013. Exhibition view at Nome Gallery

Your practice mixes objects with creative forms such as theater, magic and literary fiction. In general, i find that many of your works are quite ‘brainy’. They are fascinating and easy to get drawn into but they require time and attention from the audience to fully engage with them. Is that part of a plan to request effort from the audience? Or is it because the complexity of topics such as financial operations or the art market requires that we observe/reflect upon them with care?

In times of financialization, speed and acceleration have been distinct features. But we are slow. We work for years on the same project. And this slowness produces certain contradictions that we value.

One of our long-term collaborators, playwright Pamela Carter, drew our attention to how, in physical comedy, it’s a rule that you slow the action down … just a little … just enough to give the audience time to see the joke fully … and then laugh.

Thanks Goldin+Senneby!

Goldin+Senneby‘s solo show, Secrets of Trade, remains open until 9 June 2018 at the NOME gallery in Berlin. The magic demonstration Acid Money will take place as part of the exhibition on 9 June 2018 at 7.30 pm.

Previous stories featuring Goldin+Senneby: Artefact festival: Magic and politics, Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789-2013, Artissima 2013 – From Philospher’s stone to tomato crops, Feedforward. The Angel of History. Part 2: Globalization and agency.

Using respiration to mine crypto-currencies


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017

Max Dovey is an artist, researcher and lecturer whose performances explore how the human experience is affected by data and algorithms. His works include a bar which bouncer is in fact an image recognition software that only admits partygoers who look hipster enough, a game show that investigates the role of human labor in the production of image recognition algorithms, an event that explored the disappearance of social responsibility in the modern world of finance, etc.

His latest piece, Breath (BRH), uses human respiration to mine crypto-currencies. A respiratory mining rig inspired by a 19th century apparatus converts breathing into a hash rate for a micro computer mining on the Monero (XMR) blockchain. The volume of breath that is exhaled dictates the total amount of financial profit accumulated through mining.


A student pilot at the aviation school blows air through the glass mouthpiece of a Spirometer. Photo: collection magazine Het Leven, 1925, via

The installation uses spirometry, a medical technique for measuring lung capacity and diagnosing conditions that affect breathing.

The piece is presented as part of an imagined narrative where the body has become a biological system for producing capital and breath becomes a universal currency. The narrative tells the story of how breathing became a globally recognised currency and how bio-economics combined markets and the body to create a new homo-economicus. In this story, breath is used to exchange for goods & services and this bio-economic system encourages people to live healthier lives.

Turning lung exhalations into mining on the blockchain network not only hypothesizes that the body might one day play a more direct role in the financial systems but it also suggests that there might be more sustainable methods to maintain blockchains.


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017

I asked the artist to tell us the secret to mining half a penny through breathing:

Hi Max! Why did you choose human respiration to mine crypto-currencies? It looks so invasive…

Using Breath as currency is where this idea originated from. I wrote a short story in which breath became a universally recognized currency. In the story breathing becomes a fluid unit of value, that cannot be stored or accumulated, and is encrypted through microbes in each respiration. It leads to a rise in bio-economic hardware that enable every living species to become an economic agent, a hybrid homo economicus. The narrative describes a world where bio-economics has integrated health and finance to encourage people to live longer, healthier and more profitable lives. Exercising becomes financially profitable and healthy lifestyles lead to a healthy economy. It also fixes net capital to human population, and prevents inflation or accumulation because breathing disperses in an ephemeral, transitory nature.

The installation emerged from this economic fiction, but the spirometer was used as a medical device to diagnose pulmonary diseases – most commonly pneumoconiosis which is refereed as the black lung disease. The black lung was an acute condition diagnosed in people exposed to coal over long periods of time and was prevalent in many miners through the industrial age. So the spirometer has a medical history for diagnosing the physical affects of coal mining.

In Breath (BRH) I am using a spirometer to perform crypto-mining through lung exhalation, a device that was used to measure the harmful effects of coal mining on the human body. When considering how to perform the computational labour required to mine crypto-currencies the spirometer has a history of registering the health and well-being of the industrial miner and felt relevant for connecting computational mining back to the human condition. 


How about the hash rate? Does it only depend on the power of the individual’s lung? What are the other variables that control its movements?

The hashing rate of the micro-computer is determined by the lung capacity of the people breathing into the spirometer. So the computer is only mining when people are exerting air into the spirometer and the air pressure of the spirometer determines the rate at which the computer mines at. The traditional process of mining crypto-currencies requires a computer dedicated to validating transactions made on a digital network known as a blockchain. Financial rewards are allocated to computers that are the first to verify new transactions and initiate new blocks that store a record of each transaction on the blockchain ledger. While there are different algorithms that can be used to mine crypto currencies, the most common Proof-of-Work method requires intensive computation to solve encrypted mathematical puzzles that verify legitimate transactions and receive financial rewards for being the first to do so. The process of guessing the correct alphanumeric string of each block is known as ‘hashing’. A computers Hash rate (H/S) has become a unit with which to measure the speed of a computer processor for doing this specific task of mining crypto-currencies.

Example:
For Breath I use a small raspberry pi 3 micro computer with a 1.2GHz Quad-Core processor is capable of a hash rate of 20 kH/s (20,000 calculations per second)

in comparison, a popular graphics card used for crypto-mining (AMD Radeon R9 295X2) is capable of mining at a hash rate of 46.6 MH/s (46,000,000 calculations per second)

1 Kilo Hash is 1,000 (one thousand hashes per second)
1 Mega Hash H/s is 1,000,000 (one million hashes per second)
1 Gigi Hash g/s is 1,000,000,000 (one billion hashes per second)
1 Terra Hash T/s is 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion hashes per second)
1 Petra Hash P/s is 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion hashes per second)

1 Kilo Puff is 1 (puff a second)
1 Mega Puff /s is 100 (one hundred puffs per second)
1 Gigi Puff /s is 1000 (one thousand puffs per second)
1 Terra Puff /s is 1,000,000 (one million puffs per second)
1 Petra Puff /s is 1,000,000,000 (one billion puffs per second)

In 2013, the difficulty rating for mining bitcoin exceeded one 1 Petra Hash (that is equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000 one quadrillion hashes per second). There is a lot of discussion about the costs of securing bitcoin transactions and the environmental damage that current proof-of-work protocol is doing to the environment. The financial costs of acquiring and maintaining specialised graphics cards for mining has become extremely costly and harmful to the environment. To assist in converting the proof-of-work protocol to a respiratory bodily procedure I created my own metric system for respiratory mining (see above)

After 4 weeks of exhibiting the piece it has mined £0.02p which is 0.00000408 BTC at an average rate of 36 mega puffs a second. To monitor the mining you can visit the project website respiration.ltd.


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017

The description of the project on your blog states that the work “critically reflects on the financial bubbles created in crypto-currency markets.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

Yes. So a very early prototype of the project that I developed at the wonderful School of Machines in Berlin used breathing as a method to inflate the price of a fictional currency (rather than mining an ´actual´ crypto-currency.) In this earlier prototype audience members inflated the price of a currency through breathing to increase the value on the stock market. We organised a party where people were forced to use this currency for their food and drinks. I used the spirometer system to let people self inflate the value of the currency and trade shares of the currency based on the volume of inflation.

Some who were already savvy with the financial markets would instantly double their money by simply buying some shares when nobody was ´working´ at the piece before lying down and ventilating as hard as possible and selling those shares at the new inflated price.So the piece relied on people physically inflating the value of the currency through breathing and materialized the financial bubbles that occasionally erupt in the crypto-currency market.

Facilitating people to inflate the value of a currency represented the unexpected volatility within the crpyto-market that is caused by lucrative investments, paranoia and frenzied traders.

Influential investors known as ´Bitcoin Whales´ can dramatically effect the market and drive traders into a frenzy to avoid what is known as ´pump and dump´ scams. These scams use a network effect to manipulate and control the market, something that appears increasingly easy to do in the rise of ICOs (initial coin offerings) and start ups that use ICOs to crowdfund their business. The effect is a de-regulated, hyper volatile crypto market, where the calls made on the trading floor are now screamed within sub reddits and on social media, the dedicated community of followers scrutinizing data for signs of changing patterns or reassuring each other to ´HODL´ in times of financial uncertainty.

Post 2008 Wall Street traders have mutated into crypto trolls permanently promoting bitcoin far as they can whilst obsessing over the mythical identity of Satoshi, the latest fork & the potential of a 51% hack. Much of the relentless commitment towards the advancement of crypto-currencies originates from people that benefit from its proliferation, AKA early adopters. This commitment towards the advancement of crypto requires human energy, nothing riled with the electric demands of securing the network, but a strong, sometimes spiritual belief in the technology to overcome these ´bumps in the road´ and become a governance technology. The financial respiration system creates money from human exertion. Observing people hyper-ventilating and nearly suffocating in an attempt to gain financial returns on a speculative currency is how I chose to physicalize the chaotic and rabid trading culture in the crypto-markets.


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017


Max Dovey, Breath (BRH), 2017



I really enjoyed reading “Love on the Block”, the essay you wrote for the book Artists Re-Thinking the Blockchain. The text anchored the BH into very mundane gestures, emotions and arrangements. Could you tell us a few words about the potential of the blockchain to bypass traditional civic infrastructures? What are the advantages of using this type of alternative?

I wrote ´Love on the Block´ after stumbling across some wedding vows encoded into the bitcoin blockchain. There is something poetic about a secret message encrypted into hex code but when I looked a bit closer the weddings were highly orchestrated performances of bitcoin propaganda. The grooms were usually bitcoin investors and appeared to use the marriage ceremony to celebrate their love for bitcoin (rather than the bride). These weddings used bitcoin payments and a bitcoin ATM to pay nominal amounts of bitcoin to one another with vows attached to each payment.

The desire to program and replicate legal and civic arrangements has significantly advanced from these bitcoin weddings. People are writing code into smart contracts, this is programmed code that uses the decentralized blockchain to store and execute scripts that imitate and enforce both corporate and civic law. The most frequently cited example use case for this is the smart car that locks its doors if the owner cannot keep up with its payments. But there are many intricate experiments going on that attempt to write the legal terms of love and divorce into computer code in attempt to manage, administrate and eventually govern social relations. I have been actively attempting to experiment with coded legal entities such as marriage contracts as part of my performance work. Through role play and scenario led situations we can begin to experience the consequences of having smart contracts administrate and govern aspects of our lives. Similarly the Breath project attempts to physicalize potential conditions that can be imagined through the the implication of crpyto and blockchain technology. Using simulation or scenarios in human interaction design to highlight and more importantly, to feel the implications of emerging technologies has become an increasingly sharp tool in the artist´s toolkit. This is still an essential method for critically engaging with some of the ideologies and narratives surrounding disruptive technology. Because the design of these systems are increasingly engineered towards logical or rational based outcomes, using performance, the body and some slapstick is how I choose to ideologically de-construct and respond to the implications of A.I, blockchain and any ´smart´ technology.

Thanks Max!

Breath (BRH) will be exhibited at MoneyLab at Somerset House in London in January 2018.

The work has also been featured at Generator Projects in Dundee, Scotland as part of Neon Festival and exhibited as part of After Money at Alt-w LAB in Edinburgh.

Previously: Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain.

Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain

Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain, edited by Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, Nathan Jones and Sam Skinner.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Liverpool University Press writes: The blockchain is widely heralded as the new internet – another dimension in an ever-faster, ever-more-powerful interlocking of ideas, actions and values. Principally the blockchain is a ledger distributed across a large array of machines that enables digital ownership and exchange without a central administering body. Within the arts it has profound implications as both a means of organising and distributing material, and as a new subject and medium for artistic exploration. This landmark publication brings together a diverse array of artists and researchers engaged with the blockchain, unpacking, critiquing and marking the arrival of it on the cultural landscape for a broad readership across the arts and humanities.

Pete Gomez, The Blockchain: Change Everything Forever, 2016. A Furtherfield film, in collaboration with Digital Catapult

Blockchain! The word i tried my very best to ignore for as long as i could. Its mechanisms, implementations and logic sounded all too specialised, abstract and abstruse to me.

It’s only about a year ago and with the release of Pete Gomez‘s film The Blockchain: Change Everything Forever (a great crash-course in blockchain’s potentials and ideology) that i realized two things: 1. you don’t need a degree in engineering to understand the basics of the blockchain and 2. the potential of the blockchain should be made more visible and debated more openly in society.

A few months later, Furtherfield featured the film in its New World Order exhibition. I didn’t get a chance to visit the show but a look at the programme online suggested that art is an efficient medium when it comes to illustrating, demythifying, debating and subverting the blockchain and its many promises. Besides, as Nathan Jones & Sam Skinner explained in their preface to the book:

There is a curious equivalence between art’s speculative abilities, to play with fact, fiction, and abstraction, and the blockchain’s own chimeric character. Both art and the blockchain grapple with the instability of authorship and authenticity.

Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain follows on the footsteps of Furtherfield‘s pioneering exhibition but although it explores what arts can bring to the evolution of the blockchain and vice versa, the book also extends beyond the artistic and dissects the topic from every humanist angle.

The texts written by artists, researchers, writers, curators and designers range from essays to discussion of art projects to works of fiction. A quick and incomplete list of the chapters i enjoyed the most should give you a taste of what’s inside the book:

Unsurprisingly, my favourite chapters presented artworks based on blockchain technology. I’ve been particularly impressed with terra0 and Bittercoin:


Paul Seidler, Paul Kolling & Max Hampshire, Terra0, 2016-ongoing

Terra0 is a self-owning augmented forest, a prototype that aims to sell licenses to log its own trees through automated processes, smart contracts, and blockchain technology. With this system the forest is in the position to accumulates capital, buy more ground and therefore expand.

Martín Nadal & César Escudero Andaluz, Bittercoin, 2016


Martín Nadal & César Escudero Andaluz, Bittercoin, 2016

Bittercoin‘s ambition is to be “the worst miner ever”. This fully functional miner connects to the blockchain but works so slowly that it extends the time needed to produce bitcoins to almost an eternity. Paper accumulates around the machine making visible the amount of calculation required as well as the natural resources wasted in the process.

In the “documentation” section, the unexpected hit for me was Pablo Velasco‘s report of a role-playing workshop he organised during the MoneyLab #3 Failing Better conference in 2016. Each workshop participant was assigned a “cat-invested persona”. Their mission was then to network their way into a profitable enterprise for themselves, the cat community, and the hosting institution. If that sounds absurd it is because it is indeed totally absurd but the results of the experiment also demonstrated the power of fiction when it comes to grappling with the subtleties of ethics, finance and politics.

I also enjoyed Ben Vickers and Ruth Catlow’s Your DAO work booklet which offers a step-by-step guide to develop Decentralized Autonomous Organizations and bring humans, animals, data and organisations “closer together through code.” The templates they break down come with names as evocative as Benevolent Dictator Contract, Bonus Contract or Self-Destruction Contracts.


Simon Denny, Blockchain Future State, Fintech Gamer Case Mod Deal Toy: Augur x Ethereum, 2016. Photo via

The conversations between artists and researchers were particularly compelling. Sam Skinner interviewed Simon Denny, Elli Kuruş talked with Dr. Lysander Godord about pre-chain mechanisms and Marc Garrett interviewed Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst.

Max Dovey‘s essay Love on the Block uses the example of Bitcoin marriages to illustrate a growing desire to apply encryption, cryptography and the Blockchain database to contractual agreements. The practice also suggests a greater trust in (and devotion to) blockchain technology than in conventional religious and civic infrastructures.

I also found that Rachel O’Dwyer‘s piece on “how blockchains are transforming the economy of cultural goods” illuminated quite eloquently the type of new business models that might benefit artists working with digital technologies.

Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain adroitly balances promises, dilemmas and pitfalls of the blockchain, laying the groundwork for a discussion about the technology and the many ways it might radically change the way we understand, produce and distribute culture.

The book illustrates, often with poetry and vigour, how much has been achieved thus far by blockchain developers, advocates and users. It also makes clear that there is still a lot to invent, debate and overcome and that’s when you realize that Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain comes with an urgent message: as with the early days of the WWW, we are given the opportunity to develop our own instruments and conditions for cultural production. Let’s not abandon them in the hands of corporations, Silicon Valley start-ups and other actors of neoliberalism!

Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy

Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy, by Trebor Scholz, a scholar-activist and Associate Professor of Culture and Media at The New School in New York City.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Polity writes: This book is about the rise of digital labor. Companies like Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk promise autonomy, choice, and flexibility. One of network culture’s toughest critics, Trebor Scholz, chronicles the work of workers in the “sharing economy,” and the free labor on sites like Facebook, to take these myths apart. In this rich, accessible, and provocative book, Scholz exposes the uncaring reality of contingent digital work, which is thriving at the expense of employment and worker rights. The book is meant to inspire readers to join the growing number of worker-owned “platform cooperatives,” rethink unions, and build a better future of work. A call to action, loud and clear, Uberworked and Underpaid shows that it is time to stop wage theft and “crowd fleecing,” rethink wealth distribution, and address the urgent question of how digital labor should be regulated and how workers from Berlin, Barcelona, Seattle, and São Paulo can act in solidarity to defend their rights.


Uber drivers protest their working conditions outside the company’s Santa Monica, California office last June. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters, via Jacobin

Uberworked and Underpaid looks at how digital labor, sold to us as an opportunity to live a flexible, fulfilling, independent life of ‘micro-entrepreneurs’, often camouflages a reality characterized by the slow disappearance of fair labor practices and an increase in economic inequalities.

CrowdFlower’s Lukas Biewald summed the situation up quite adequately back in 2010 when he said: “Before the Internet, it would be really difficult to find someone, sit them down for ten minutes and get them to work for you, and then fire them after those ten minutes. But with technology, you can actually find them, pay them the tiny amount of money, and then get rid of them when you don’t need them anymore.”

The victims of these new engines of exploitation are working for the usual suspects: Uber, TaskRabbit, Amazon Mechanical Turk, etc. However, the book also includes into this festival of precarity the many individuals whose work often remains uncompensated or underpaid: the interns, bloggers and journalists (to which i’m going to add most people involved in the art world) who are asked to work ‘for exposure’, Amazon’s book reviewers, anyone who has to solve one of Google’s reCAPTCHA, the fiction fans, the gamers, the DuoLingo users who engage in crowdsourced language translation, etc.

In a chapter about The myth of Immateriality, Scholz even goes as far as to include the millions of forgotten individuals whose very physical efforts fire off the digital realm: the cobalt and coltan miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the assembly line workers in Foxconn factories or the cooks and cleaners working at the facebook headquarters.


Deliveroo riders protest over payment changes in front of the delivery firm’s head office in London in 2016. Photo via BBC

Scholz documents and analyzes with great clarity and vigor how platform capitalists are exploiting the overabundance of vulnerable workers and how internet has become an efficient enabler of unethical work practices. However, his sharp critique of the so-called “sharing economy” soon leaves space for an in-depth inquiry into realistic models and ideas that could lead to a fairer digital economy. He particularly lays his hopes in Platform Cooperativism (some of them already exist: Loconomics in San Francisco, Fairmondo in Germany, etc.), explores the promises of Universal Basic Income, looks at existing unions, guilds and design interventions and drafts 10 principles for decent labor platforms.

Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer, a 2008 film about getting all the cheap migrant works without the workers

Uberworked and Underpaid is a very informative and eloquent call for democratic and ethical labor practices. It sheds light on fairly depressing realities but comes up with encouraging and attainable alternatives.

Another reason why i found this book invaluable is that, unlike many publications about economy and society, this one frequently includes works of art, design, cinema and literature into its discourse.

I have only two minor criticisms. The first one is that i would have liked to read about citizens’ reluctance to relinquish cheap services. Many Londoners, for example, seem to prefer low-cost taxis to security and fair working arrangements. Similarly, when Foodora riders protested against the ridiculously low compensations they were receiving from the delivery company, the local population remained fairly unconcerned. I fear that we all bear our share of responsibility in what Scholz calls “crowd fleecing.”

The second commentary is that the book is, unsurprisingly, very U.S.-centered. However, the models and politics explored in Uberworked and Underpaid have already spread across continents so i believe that European readers will find the book extremely helpful and pertinent too.

If ever you’re in New York, you might be interested in the event The People’s Disruption: Platform Co-ops for Global Challenges convened by Trebor Scholz, Camille Kerr, Nathan Schneider and Palak Shah on 10 and 11 November at The New School, NYC.

Photo on the homepage: still from Alex Rivera‘s Sleep Dealer, via LatinoBuzz.