Category Archives: Vienna

Faceless. Re-inventing Privacy Through Subversive Media Strategies

Faceless. Re-inventing Privacy Through Subversive Media Strategies, edited by artist and researcher Bogomir Doringer in collaboration with curator and cultural studies scholar Brigitte Felderer.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher De Gruyter writes: The contributions to this book explore a phenomenon that appears to be a contradiction in itself – we, the users of computers, can be tracked in digital space for all eternity. Although, on the one hand, one wants to be noticed and noticeable, on the other hand one does not necessarily want to be recognized at the first instance, being prey to an unfathomable public, or – even less so – to lose face.

The book documents artistic and other strategies that point out options for appearing in the infinite book of faces whilst nevertheless avoiding being included in any records. The desire not to become a mere object of facial sell-out does not just remain an aesthetic endeavor. The contributions also contain combative and sarcastic statements against a digital dynamic that has already penetrated our everyday lives.


REBEL YUTHS, Masks, 2011-2013


Teresa Dillon, Under New Moons We Stand Strong, 2016. Photo: Fraser Denholm and Yvi Philipp

I love exhibition catalogues. Most of them give you a colourful overview of a show you’ve had the bad idea to miss. Others, however, do far more than that. They take the print as an opportunity to bring different voices around the pages to dissect and discuss a particular field of research, expanding on the exhibition itself and becoming a work of reference in the process. Faceless. Re-inventing Privacy Through Subversive Media Strategies is of the latter breed.

Faceless started as a duo of exhibitions that opened at Q21_ in Vienna in 2013. The shows investigated the hiding, distorting and masking of the face in post-9/11 visual culture. The practice, set against the backdrop of a massive production of images and a political frenzy to supervise movements, responds to various motivations: a need to regain some control over an identity, to protest against control and surveillance, to challenge mainstream ideas of acceptable bodies, etc.

As the book demonstrates, the strategies adopted to morph and conceal a face are as diverse as they are creative. It’s quite interesting to contrast some of them with the now normalized practice of publishing selfies in which the face has gone through so much (physical) makeup and (digital) filters action that the individual is barely recognizable. Everyone knows you don’t look like that at all in real life but we’ve stopped batting an eyelid a long time ago.

The essays and artistic contributions featured in the book are consistently excellent. Thomas Macho, for example, charts the strategies of facelessness through art history. Matthias Tarasiewicz discusses the zero trust society and the necessity to literally play hide and seek with surveillance infrastructures in order to obtain personal privacy online. Hille Koskela explains how exhibitionism, aided by digital media, has become “the new normal”. Teresa Dillon comments on the violent and material role that CCTV cameras play in urban life. Adam Harvey presents an e-commerce platform entirely dedicated to accessories and tricks for countersurveillance. Rosa Menkman has an eye-opening look at the use and abuse of the faces of (Caucasian) women in the history of image processing.

The best surprise for me, little Margiela maniac, was to find excerpts from the interviews that mint film office had done with members of the Martin Margiela team for their WE MARGIELA documentary. Margiela was an iconic fashion designer famous for the way he shrouded himself in invisibility. He shunned public appearances, refused to release any official portrait and accepted only a few interviews but then they had to be carried out via faxes. He was also a genius at disrupting all the fashion codes.


KNOWBOTIC RESEARCH, The MacGhillie Saga

My recommendation to you would be to get this book if you’re interested in how questions of control&surveillance, identity&politics of the body are explored critically across a wide range of cultural manifestations. Not just in contemporary art but also in cinema, fashion, street culture, sexual fetishism, etc. Faceless manages to put a new, brave and thought-provoking spin on crucial topics that dominate our culture but still deserved to be discussed with intellectual rigour. And a bit of humour here and there.

Just a couple of the many creative works i discovered in the book:


Martin Backes, Pixelhead limited edition, 2010

Pixelhead is a full face mask acts as media camouflage, completely shielding the head to ensure that your face is not recognizable on photographs taken in public places, without securing permission. This piece is inspired by google street view and therefore bridges the gap between the real and virtual world. This simple piece of fabric masks individuals’ anonymity for the Internet age.


Sofie Groot Dengerink, © Google Privacy, 2011 © Google Maps and Sofie Groot Dengerink

Window curtains in The Netherlands are often either left wide open as a protestant statement that there is nothing to hide. Sofie Groot Dengerink‘s series of snapshots from Google Streetview lays bare the digital invasion of our (physical) privacy.


Jan Stradtmann, Garden of Eden, 2008

Shot furtively on Canary Wharf (London’s financial district) in September and October 2008, Jan Stradtmann’s photos reflect the tense atmosphere of the early days of the economic crisis. Everyday situations and gestures -cigarette breaks, phone calls or casual meetings between colleagues- get interpreted and framed as if they had a direct link to the crash.


Vermibus, In Absentia


Ben DeHaan, Uncured

Ben DeHaan’s melting portraits were created with a run-of-the-mill inkjet printers that use ultraviolet light to dry the ink printed on a page, which happens to be UV-sensitive. The ink dries — or cures — almost instantaneously. Unless you disable the UV light which is exactly what the artist did. He then photographed the prints as the ink was slowly dripping down the face of his subjects.


Simone C. Niquille, Here Be Faces, 2013

Pablo Garcia and Addie Wagenknecht, Webcam Venus, 2013


Caron Geary aka FERAL is KINKY, Frontal View No. 2 of White British Female, UK born-‘Feral’, London – Self Portrait, 2007

How To Live Together. Part 2: the good news


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Outside Arabeska wedding hall), 2014

Since last week’s review about the exhibition How To Live Together at Kunsthalle Wien was all doom and gloom, i had to come back with another post and a more encouraging viewpoint.

This time i will thus focus on the artworks that show what makes coexistence possible in times of rapid societal changes, growing economic inequality, forced migrations and a widespread loss of trust in politics.

Intuitively, we already know that the key to more unified societies lies in a mix of resistance, remembrance, borrowing from other cultures, dreams and empathy. Many of the artists in the show illustrate what happens when these abstract notions are turned into real life stories:


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Laili wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Niagara wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Evropa wedding hall), 2014


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, Makhachkala, 14.09.2014

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, Russia. Dagestan is famous for its dozens of ethnic groups, none of them forming a majority. Which explains why the country has 13 official languages.

Dagestani weddings are as serious as they are expensive and i’m glad no one has ever invited me to one because traditional celebrations can last for 3 days. Makhachkala counts more than 60 wedding halls. Each of them booked out during peak season (late spring to early autumn.)

With the complicity of local wedding photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Taus Makhacheva spent a whole day crashing as many weddings as possible. At the end of the day, she managed to attend 19 marriage celebrations.

The performance was documented in postcards (each of them available for Kunsthalle Wien visitors to take away.) You see her adopting all the clichéd poses: congratulating the newlyweds, dancing, eating among the other guests, standing proudly next to the wedding gifts, etc. She’s the perfect uninvited guest!

Because of the coexistence of so many cultures into one city, the images of the festivities show a fabulous mix of brides wearing a hijab and a Western ‘princess’ dress, female guests whose style icons are clearly one or all the Kardashian sisters, people taking photos using an iPad, ladies in very conservative outfits, etc. Somehow this blend of oriental/occidental, pop/traditional attires works fabulously and suggests a society that is borrowing from several cultures in order to define its own identity.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010

Bouquet V is made of ninety-five species of fresh flowers. The arrangement gives equal importance and visibility to each flower, no mater its colour, size, or provenance. The bouquet symbolises the beauty of diversity, the appeal of mixing individuals of various origins to obtain a stunning foral composition. The same logic should apply to society. Yet, celebration of diversity is still undervalued in many parts of the world. Unless you live in Dagestan of course.

Willen de Rooij‘s floral compositions are also a reference to the Netherlands’ role as a key hub in the international flower trade.


Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (video still), 2010

Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (extract), 2010

The latest Mercer Cost of Living Survey calculated that Angola’s capital Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. While living costs for foreigners who often work for the oil industry are slightly higher than New York and San Francisco, the average wage for the local population in Angola is just under $2 a day.

The most moving work in the show is a video by Binelde Hyrcan. The film shows four little boys playing on the beach in Angola. Sitting in the sand, they pretend they are driving around the world in a limousine. In only 2 min 30, the children’s playful chitchat reveals an existence plagued by social inequalities, poverty and families split by migration. “I’m going to America and live in a building; you’re going to stay here and live in a shantytown!”

But the film also talks of hope and dreams as a way to escape the trauma of social suffering.


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016

Kader Attia is also interested in exploring trauma and social anxieties. He believes that the world, too focused on the present to remember the past, is suffering from amnesia.

His film essay Reflecting Memory deals with the idea of trauma and “reparation”. Surgeons, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts and traumatised people discuss the phenomenon of phantom pain, which amputees feel for their missing body part. The video draws parallels between this neurological condition and the trauma caused by psychological wounds, such as those brought about by war, slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror. They can spread over several generations as an unexpressed sensation of pain. This pain can in turn divide communities and create social tensions.

According to the interviewees, a confrontation with the past and an acceptance that it is part of our genealogy are necessary steps towards “repairing” the pain.

Attia’s film is shown in the screening room next to the space occupied by Sven Augustijnen’s Le Réduit which explores an episode in Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo (i mentioned the work in my previous story). Congo, now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, typifies the fate of an ex-European colony which has experienced much trauma but has never been offered any healing experience.


Johan Grimonprez, Kiss-o-drome (fragment from Shadow World, story written and read by Eduardo Galeano), 2016

In 1980, Judge Manuel Morales ruled that ‘the cinemateographic kiss, in which salivas mix to simply swell the sensuality’ should be banned from the city of Sorocaba in Brazil.

In reaction to the ludicrous edict, almost 2,000 young people marched through the streets and organized a huge ‘kiss-in’ protest. “Never had people kissed so much,” writes in his book Eduardo Galeano in Children of the Days.

Johan Grimonprez‘s short video celebrates the protest with images of a dancing couple and the voice of Eduardo Galeano narrating the Kiss-o-drome demonstration.


Herlinde Koelbl, Italy Catania-Messina (from the series: Refugees), 2016

Herlinde Koelbl’s Refugees photo series highlights under-represented aspects of the life of refugees after they’ve arrived in Europe: their days inside the camps, the most treasured possessions they brought with them, etc. But also the generosity they encounter in the countries of arrival.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Ieva Epnere, Riga Circus, 2004–08/2017


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Armin Linke, CNR, National Research Council, Fermi conference hall, on the wall the Globe made by Fra’ Mauro in 1460, 2007

How To Live Together also attempts to be more than yet another art exhibition for the usual cultural aficionados. The curators set up a “Community College” offering workshops, tours, brunches, courses and lectures until the end of the show. You can find the programme inside the exhibition booklet.

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Previously: How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news.

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

How To Live Together. Part 2: the good news


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Outside Arabeska wedding hall), 2014

Since last week’s review about the exhibition How To Live Together at Kunsthalle Wien was all doom and gloom, i had to come back with another post and a more encouraging viewpoint.

This time i will thus focus on the artworks that show what makes coexistence possible in times of rapid societal changes, growing economic inequality, forced migrations and a widespread loss of trust in politics.

Intuitively, we already know that the key to more unified societies lies in a mix of resistance, remembrance, borrowing from other cultures, dreams and empathy. Many of the artists in the show illustrate what happens when these abstract notions are turned into real life stories:


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Laili wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Niagara wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Evropa wedding hall), 2014


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, Makhachkala, 14.09.2014

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, Russia. Dagestan is famous for its dozens of ethnic groups, none of them forming a majority. Which explains why the country has 13 official languages.

Dagestani weddings are as serious as they are expensive and i’m glad no one has ever invited me to one because traditional celebrations can last for 3 days. Makhachkala counts more than 60 wedding halls. Each of them booked out during peak season (late spring to early autumn.)

With the complicity of local wedding photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Taus Makhacheva spent a whole day crashing as many weddings as possible. At the end of the day, she managed to attend 19 marriage celebrations.

The performance was documented in postcards (each of them available for Kunsthalle Wien visitors to take away.) You see her adopting all the clichéd poses: congratulating the newlyweds, dancing, eating among the other guests, standing proudly next to the wedding gifts, etc. She’s the perfect uninvited guest!

Because of the coexistence of so many cultures into one city, the images of the festivities show a fabulous mix of brides wearing a hijab and a Western ‘princess’ dress, female guests whose style icons are clearly one or all the Kardashian sisters, people taking photos using an iPad, ladies in very conservative outfits, etc. Somehow this blend of oriental/occidental, pop/traditional attires works fabulously and suggests a society that is borrowing from several cultures in order to define its own identity.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010

Bouquet V is made of ninety-five species of fresh flowers. The arrangement gives equal importance and visibility to each flower, no mater its colour, size, or provenance. The bouquet symbolises the beauty of diversity, the appeal of mixing individuals of various origins to obtain a stunning foral composition. The same logic should apply to society. Yet, celebration of diversity is still undervalued in many parts of the world. Unless you live in Dagestan of course.

Willen de Rooij‘s floral compositions are also a reference to the Netherlands’ role as a key hub in the international flower trade.


Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (video still), 2010

Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (extract), 2010

The latest Mercer Cost of Living Survey calculated that Angola’s capital Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. While living costs for foreigners who often work for the oil industry are slightly higher than New York and San Francisco, the average wage for the local population in Angola is just under $2 a day.

The most moving work in the show is a video by Binelde Hyrcan. The film shows four little boys playing on the beach in Angola. Sitting in the sand, they pretend they are driving around the world in a limousine. In only 2 min 30, the children’s playful chitchat reveals an existence plagued by social inequalities, poverty and families split by migration. “I’m going to America and live in a building; you’re going to stay here and live in a shantytown!”

But the film also talks of hope and dreams as a way to escape the trauma of social suffering.


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016

Kader Attia is also interested in exploring trauma and social anxieties. He believes that the world, too focused on the present to remember the past, is suffering from amnesia.

His film essay Reflecting Memory deals with the idea of trauma and “reparation”. Surgeons, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts and traumatised people discuss the phenomenon of phantom pain, which amputees feel for their missing body part. The video draws parallels between this neurological condition and the trauma caused by psychological wounds, such as those brought about by war, slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror. They can spread over several generations as an unexpressed sensation of pain. This pain can in turn divide communities and create social tensions.

According to the interviewees, a confrontation with the past and an acceptance that it is part of our genealogy are necessary steps towards “repairing” the pain.

Attia’s film is shown in the screening room next to the space occupied by Sven Augustijnen’s Le Réduit which explores an episode in Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo (i mentioned the work in my previous story). Congo, now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, typifies the fate of an ex-European colony which has experienced much trauma but has never been offered any healing experience.


Johan Grimonprez, Kiss-o-drome (fragment from Shadow World, story written and read by Eduardo Galeano), 2016

In 1980, Judge Manuel Morales ruled that ‘the cinemateographic kiss, in which salivas mix to simply swell the sensuality’ should be banned from the city of Sorocaba in Brazil.

In reaction to the ludicrous edict, almost 2,000 young people marched through the streets and organized a huge ‘kiss-in’ protest. “Never had people kissed so much,” writes in his book Eduardo Galeano in Children of the Days.

Johan Grimonprez‘s short video celebrates the protest with images of a dancing couple and the voice of Eduardo Galeano narrating the Kiss-o-drome demonstration.


Herlinde Koelbl, Italy Catania-Messina (from the series: Refugees), 2016

Herlinde Koelbl’s Refugees photo series highlights under-represented aspects of the life of refugees after they’ve arrived in Europe: their days inside the camps, the most treasured possessions they brought with them, etc. But also the generosity they encounter in the countries of arrival.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Ieva Epnere, Riga Circus, 2004–08/2017


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Armin Linke, CNR, National Research Council, Fermi conference hall, on the wall the Globe made by Fra’ Mauro in 1460, 2007

How To Live Together also attempts to be more than yet another art exhibition for the usual cultural aficionados. The curators set up a “Community College” offering workshops, tours, brunches, courses and lectures until the end of the show. You can find the programme inside the exhibition booklet.

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Previously: How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news.

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news

How To Live Together, an exhibition currently on view at Kunsthalle Wien, aims to looks that the conditions and prospects of living together in terms of individual and social dimensions.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff: Goshka Macuga, To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, 2016


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8

This is a brave, laudable and rather ambitious objective at a time characterized by tightening borders, stigmatizing discourses, political debates inside filter bubbles, and other suggestions that the world is not only melting under our feet but also intent on cultivating divisions.

The exhibition is located over two floors. It is huge and it can feel as overwhelming as the theme it purports to explore: Tina Barney’s photos of the European one per cent are hung in uncomfortable proximity of the ones Mohamed Bourouissa made of the deserted youth in the Paris suburbs; Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij‘s videos of drug addicts trying to stare at the camera in exchange for a beer make for an almost unbearable watch and Paul Graham‘s photos of everyday life at the (un)employment offices in the 1980s are too close to home 30 years later.

Fortunately, the curators of How To Live Together didn’t just summon grim visions, they also searched for glimpses of hope, signs of change, and lessons from other cultures. Wolfgang Tillmans’ poignant Anti-Brexit campaign reminds us why artists need to take an active role in civil society; Ayzit Bostan‘s Imagine Peace written in arabic on t-shirts challenges society’s prejudices; Johan Grimonprez‘s Kiss-o-drome illustrates how humour and love can challenge censorship. Speaking of humour… the main image of the exhibition with its Merkel diamond gesture is an amusing echo to Herlinde Koelbl‘s portraits of Angela Merkel over decades. Those portraits were probably the most scrutinised works in the whole Kunsthalle, by the way.


Herlinde Koelbl, Angela Merkel, 1991–2006, from the cycle: Spuren der Macht (Traces of Power) at Kunsthalle Wien

Because it’s almost 40 degrees this week in Turin and i’m in a murderous mood, i’m going to split my review of the show into two parts. Today, you get the depressing bits and as soon as temperatures have cooled off a little, i’ll be back with the works that speak of solidarity, optimism and compassion.

It’s not all bad though because 1. i loved that show so much i visited it twice and 2. i’m going to open the quick gallery tour with one of my favourite artists:


Mohamed Bourouissa, Carré rouge (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Mohamed Bourouissa, La République (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Mohamed Bourouissa, Le miroir (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust

“I wanted to represent the guys from the banlieues, who are generally only portrayed by news reporters, and to lift this type of imagery into the field of aesthetics,” explained Mohamed Bourouissa in an interview with Elephant.

Made in 2005, in the context of the riots in the French banlieues, the series has as its main protagonists the young Africans and Arabs living in the suburbs of Paris.

Because we are used to seeing them portrayed by news reporters, most of us would probably take our cue from their outfits and surrounding and automatically assume that we are looking at scenes of trouble. But Bourouissa’s photos are carefully staged and lit as if they were tableaux vivants. The subtle aesthetics strategy challenges our own prejudices as well as the over-simplification of photojournalism that often fails to convey more complex socio-political contexts. His photos also seems to invite us to face uncomfortable issues head on.


Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012–2013


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012–2013

L’Utopie d’August Sander, another Bourouissa work in the show, refers to August Sander‘s magnum opus Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th Century, also on view at Kunsthalle Wien.) This photographic atlas was intended to be a “contemporary portrait of the German man”.


August Sander, Jobless, 1928/1993

Sander’s portraits were grouped into seven portfolios, each dedicated to a specific social and occupational group. He portrayed craftsmen, industrialists, farmers but also elements of German society that were regarded as less ‘respectable’: traveling people, beggars, the disabled, the unemployed. Their inclusion in the work is probably what raised the ire of the Nazi who, in 1936, confiscated the first published version of the project and destroyed all the printing plates.

Bourouissa’s work limits his portrayal of society to the unemployed but he anchors it into the 21st century by using 3D printing. His studio was located inside a “fab-lab mobile”. He parked his truck outside a Pôle emploi (French national unemployment agency) in Marseille and asked people in search of work if he could 3D scan them and turn them into figurines, which some likened to the santon tradition in the South East of France.

By being at the crossroads of integration and social exclusion, unemployment offices remind us how much we are defined by our social status. The polyester resin statuettes are anti-monuments to this uneasy position. The figurines respect the anonymity of the job-seeker but because they are different from each other, they also mirror the singular identities of the people who aspire to play the role that modern society expects from them.


Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012. Image via exponaute

As a nod to the economy of precariousness and resourcefulness that surrounds unemployment, Bourouissa sold the statuettes on the street for 1 Euro.

For the artist, the work process was far more important than the statuettes. His documentation of the work includes a ‘livre des refus’ (book of refusals) in which he chronicles the reactions of people who said ‘no’ to his requests and accused him of using his artistic privileges to exploit people.


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring (Waiting room, Highgate DHSS, North London), 1984/8


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8

In 1984, Paul Graham was commissioned to present his view of “Britain in 1984”. He chose to document the inside of English unemployment offices which, at the time, struggled to accommodate 10 million people out of work. Graham wasn’t allowed to take these images, meaning that he had to hide his camera under his coat or put it on the chair beside him. He thus had to shoot instinctively, often unable to look through the viewfinder. Yet, the images seem imbued with empathy.

The images of people sitting dejectedly in run-down waiting rooms under hostile neon lights attest to the breakdown of the welfare benefits system across the country. The series also holds a bitter mirror to contemporary economic systems that cultivate social inequality and political discourses that blame the poor for their own circumstances.

Over time the work acquired “this strange double life: as both a political work of social reportage handed out at lefty political conferences, and as a fine art photography book”.


Aslan Gaisumov, stills from the video People of No Consequence, Chechnya, 2016


Aslan Gaisumov, stills from the video People of No Consequence, Chechnya, 2016


Aslan Gaisumov, Production photo for People of No Consequence, 2016

From 23 February to 9 March 1944 the entire Chechen and Ingush nations, about half a million people, were deported to Central Asia by the Soviet authorities. They had been declared guilty of cooperation with Nazi occupants. Almost half of all Chechens died or were killed during the round-ups and transportation, and during their early years in exile.

The expulsion was part of a forced settlement program and population transfer that affected several million members of non-Russian Soviet ethnic minorities between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Survivors were allowed to return to their native land only in 1957. Many in Chechnya and Ingushetia classify it as an act of genocide, as did the European Parliament in 2004.

Aslan Gaisumov traveled across Chechnya searching for survivors of the deportation. He managed to gather 119 of them in Grozny. 60 years after they had lost their home. People of No Consequence is a quiet, hypnotizing single shot of these people entering an official looking room and sitting down facing the camera. First, the men. Then the women who go and sit at the back. On the wall at the back of the room, a poster depicts Grozny as a city that has erased all traces of recent wars in favour of pompous, alienating architecture. People of No Consequence is an incredibly moving work. The frail people in the film are the last witnesses of an injustice that hasn’t been given a place in official historical accounts.

Aslan Gaisumov had two video pieces in the shows. Both amazing in strength and simplicity. He approaches the darkest and understudied pages in the history of his country without sensationalism, bitterness nor unnecessary pathos.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit (Aerial views of Kamina Base), 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016

Now for a bit of that famous Belgian surrealism:

While doing some research about Belgium’s colonial history in the Congo (now DRC), Sven Augustijnen found out that, during the 1950s, his country had planned to build a huge refuge for the Belgian elite in Kamina, located in the rich mining region of Katanga in what was then the Belgian Congo.

Augustijnen analysed the thousands of photos, negatives, carbon copies, maps and architectural plans he had discovered at Belgium’s Centre de Documentation historique des Forces armées. They had never been studied before.

The documents show that the Belgian government had planned to create a huge military base and a haven for the royal family and their entourage. The exclusive hideaway would have served as a second Belgian capital and refuge in case of a communist invasion in Europe. Which is pretty ironic when you think that many of these people were happy to exploit the African territory from a distance but had probably never set a foot on it.

Using the archival materials as well as a short trip he made to Kamina last year, the artist wrote a story that balances historical facts and fiction to explain the Belgian government’s absurd and ambitious secret plan.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Jeremy Shaw, Quickeners, 2014

That’s it for today! I’ll see you at the other end of the heat wave!


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline


Toni Schmale, hafenperle II, from the series: fuhrpark. was das/der neue gefährt sein kann, 2013. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust


Juliette Goiffon and Charles Beauté, Face mask, 2016

Article 24 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights declares that Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

But does this still hold true? What remains of the values and achievement labour movements have fought so hard for since the Industrial Revolution? The growth of the service industry, of automation and of the white collar workforce liberated our bodies from the most physically exhausting exertions but does that mean that we feel a sense of body relief and comfort?

It turns out that, from a physiological point of view, sedentary activity is putting new strains and burdens on our bodies. News reports calling sitting ‘the new smoking’ abound. Employers are now increasingly responding to employees’ stress, loss of motivation, back problems and sick leaves with corporate wellness programs. Some offer wearable activity trackers to make work more fun, improve workers’ health, boost employee productivity or save money on health insurance costs. Others grant free gym membership. Or bananas.

As for rest and leisure, anyone with an internet connection is painfully aware that ‘urgent’ work emails, itches to update social media status and message from clients and colleagues are quietly nibbling away at our leisure time. Furthermore, the growing use of zero-hour contracts in the low wage sectors of the service and digital economy is imposing a new time discipline where the worker, informed often at short notice if their efforts are required, remains constantly on alert. Fortunately, we can still retreat in sleep. We might have less and less of it nowadays but it remains the last territory that capitalism hasn’t directly and completely conquered. Yet.


Visible Solutions, Clarity, 2010. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust


Hannah Black, Bodybuilding, 2015. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust


Hannah Black, Bodybuilding (excerpt, 2m46s), 2015

A new exhibition at Kunsthalle Wien is looking at the work of the future and the future of work. The show focuses particularly on the increasing demands that work is placing on our physiology and how these demands are met with (conscious or not) moments of bodily resistance. Bearing the energetic title Work it, feel it!, the show is part of the Vienna Biennale for art, design, and architecture which theme this year is Robots. Work. Our Future. The various exhibitions in the biennale explore innovation, speculation and the future. With a bit of scifi and a bit of healthy imagination. Work it, feel it! stands out from the other curatorial perspectives by taking a more critical, more oblique yet very pertinent approach that scales the theme back to the body of the worker. And while the show zooms in on the disciplining of the human body, it never loses sight of the broader picture and issues: the capitalist organization of work and its impact on all aspects of our life.

The exhibition focuses on the demands placed on the human body and its possibilities to act, as seen against the backdrop of an increasingly automated workplace. What are the mechanisms of discipline and control that have been applied to the mind, and above all to the body, to make it an efficient production tool and a pillar of consumerism?.

Work it, feel it! explores the role of artists in this context. Not only did artists pioneer new working models based on flexibility, freelancing and precariousness, they also constantly question systems of control, redefine spaces for agency and present possible alternatives and escape routes to this implacable drive for productivity that has become the ‘new normal.’


Danilo Correale, No More Sleep No More, 2014/16


Danilo Correale, No More Sleep No More, 2014/16. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust

Danilo Correale, No More Sleep No More (intro)


Danilo Correale, No More Sleep No More (still), 2015

The most thought-provoking work in the show for me was No More Sleep No More, Danilo Correale‘s compelling essay on the chronopolitics of sleep and wakefulness in postmodernity.

In 2014, Correale started a series of conversations with various experts on sleep: doctor David M. Rapoport, anthropologist Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, historian Roger Ekirch, sociologist Simon Williams, labour studies scholar Alan Derickson, geographer Murray Melbin, philosopher Alexei Penzin and feminist scholar Reena Patel.

The interview part of Correale’s installation is a 4 hour long study of the tensions between the unyielding urge to be productive and the impact that sleeplessness has on productivity but also on social life as well as physical and mental health.

I didn’t get to hear everything but the whole research behind the work is so fascinating that i’ve just ordered the book! While i was in Vienna, however, I did get to listen to Roger Ekirch. The historian believes that industrial capitalism’s relentless need for productivity has shaped our sleeping habits. Not only did we sleep more in the past but we also used to divide our sleep into two shifts. Then came the Industrial Revolution in Europe and stricter, less intuitive sleep/wake schedules were imposed on the workers.

No More Sleep No More suggests a very near future when productivity will not only encroach on every waking hour of the day, as it already does, but will also take control over our sleeping cycles.

As an ironic and somewhat cruel comment on the dictates of neo-liberal capitalism over our sleep patterns, the installation features a dreamy, scifi screening of hypnotizing moving fluids to be experienced, not sitting on the traditional gallery bench, but reclining on the most comfortable bed i’ve ever tried in my life.


Danilo Correale, Boosted (detail), 2014


Danilo Correale, Boosted, 2014. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust

Correale also explored alertness and the hyper-productive body through a series of silk scarves which patterns are inspired by the aggressive language of advertisements for energy drinks and invigorating ‘superfoods’. The fairly recent explosion in the energy drink & food market seems to respond and sustain the capitalistic call for 24/7 ebullience. According to its rhetoric, rest is a waste of time, aspiring to it is seen as some kind of moral flaw, a socially unacceptable blemish on productivity.

One of the scarves was covered in weapon patterns, implying that the future of our performances might not lay in maca and Red Bull but somewhere in the U.S. military’s ongoing sleep-reduction research program.


Shawn Maximo, Creeper Comforts (Specialty Multi), 2017. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust


Shawn Maximo, Creeper Comforts (Specialty Multi), 2017. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust

At the back of the exhibition space is Shawn Maximo’s futuristic beauty store. It looks familiar, like a Sephora of the future, only that along with the usual eye shadow palettes and myriads of lipstick shades, you find body parts. Various shapes of butts, colours of eyeballs, hands in all possible skin tone hues, etc. The cosmetic store specializes in the optimisation of the appearances of both humans and robots.

We already know that in the future, human bodies in need of enhancement will have access to affordable biofabricated flesh, 3D printing prosthesis and other customizable body parts. Maybe in the future we will all be like Aimee Mullins, the double-amputee model and Paralympian, who collects set of legs and sees in each of them the possibility to acquire new powers, new function and a new identity. How about self-conscious robots? Maybe they will be as free (or as constrained) as we are to change their appearance in a bid to look fit, attractive, modern and ready to comply with any new work requirement.

Which made me wonder: will we want to look more like a super powerful and sleek piece of robotics in the future? Or will the robots strive to look slightly flawed and more ‘natural’?


Sidsel Meineche Hansen, The Manual Labour Series (detail), 2013


Sidsel Meineche Hansen, The Manual Labour Series, 2013

Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s Manual Labour Series questions the hierarchy between manual labour and cognitive labour forms. The series, consisting of five woodcut prints and a laser-cut wooden plate, depicts the human autonomic nervous system (that’s the control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates functions such as the heart rate, digestion, pupillary response, urination, etc.) as well as hands injured by repetitive strain and affected by tendinitis.

To make the print series, the artist appropriated Edvard Munch’s woodcut printing technique and digitalised it by converting her handmade drawings into illustrator files, which were then laser-cut into the surface of the wood she used for the printing. The veins of the wood emphasize the craft, but also suggest a depiction of psychic spaces.

Depression, stress or nervousness are often interpreted as the collateral damages of our time and pressures at work. But what if they are signs (if not to say symptoms) of a resistance of the body—against its commodification and its exploitation by capitalism? The logic of profit strains the most intimate parts and particles of our bodies, from our emotions and our desires down to the tendons of our fingers. Everything can potentially create value, nothing escapes commodification. The whole body is mobilised and absorbed by this logic and the invasive technologies that support it. Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s work addresses the psychological and physical consequences of late capitalism, on a micro- and macro-political level, at home and at work, and seeks to locate points of resistance.

More images and works from the show:


Juliette Goiffon and Charles Beauté, Face mask #1, 2016


Juliette Goiffon and Charles Beauté, Upgrade (overall equipment), 2017. Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust


Installation view: Work it, feel it!, Kunsthalle Wien 2017. Photo: Jorit Aust


Louise Hervé and Chloe Maillet, Prosper Enfantins Performances, 2009

PDF of the exhibition guide.

Work it, feel it!, curated by Anne Faucheret and associate curator Eva Meran, remains open at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location) until 10 September 2017.
The exhibition is part of the Vienna Biennale for art, design, and architecture.

Béton: The history of a concrete-clad utopia

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Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Corviale), 2015

Long reviled, brutalism seems to be everyone’s favourite architectural style at the moment. The nostalgia for the late modernist architecture manifests itself through stunning coffee table books, brutalism appreciation society and plenty of campaigns to save some of its masterpieces.

If the rude charms and resolute geometries of brutalism have been somewhat rehabilitated, its utopian ambitions have not. Buildings made of the cement and stone amalgam still carry with them the stigma of the egalitarian commitments and social advances they promised but spectacularly failed to deliver.

Terada-Concrete
Ron Terada, Concrete Language, 2006/2016

Instead of enriching people’s lives with carefully proportioned dwellings and safe green space for socializing, the structures ghettoised the poor and betrayed their top-down (if well-meaning) designs.

Béton, an exhibition that opened a few months ago at Kunsthalle Wien, is entirely dedicated to brutalism. Its title alludes to the etymology of the architectural movement: béton brut, which can be translated into ‘exposed concrete.’

The show doesn’t intend to debate on the merits and shortcomings of concrete and its uses in building and engineering. Instead, it invites us to revisit the radical ideas and social utopia that these working-class housing and public buildings attempted to embody .

Aiming to change society, brutalist architecture virtually gave shape to utopia. Today, many of the buildings built at the time are threatened with demolition; they are considered to have failed their purpose. In light of a modernism stained by dystopia, contemporary art once again carve out its original ideas, its euphoria, but also its failure. Not out of a nostalgic longing but for the sake of remembering that architecture was once more than enclosed space, and concrete was not merely a building material but was historically and ideologically charged.

While i was in town to visit AJNHAJTCLUB at Q21, i crossed the square of the MuseumsQuartier and spent a couple of hours walking through the Béton exhibition…

Gillick_Liam_Beton0
Liam Gillick, Pain in a building, 1999

The UK has its fair share of brutalist estates and buildings that didn’t live up to the democratizing aspirations of their architects and planners. Thamesmead in Greater London is a good example of what happens when commendable utopia has to contend with economic realities. Conceived in the 1960s as the town of the future, Thamesmead promised to combine city life with the joys of the countryside: green spaces, a nature reserve and an artificial lake. However, the experiment quickly turned sour. Plans to build a shopping center around a marina, a train station and other amenities had to be scrapped because of financial difficulties. Criminality rose quickly and in the late ’70s, the neighbourhood was used as a sink estate by the councils around.

Stanley Kubrick filmed some of the key scenes of his 1971 film A Clockwork Orange in Thamesmead. The town served as the setting for a dystopic London ruled by anarchy and violence.

Fe10deman1697
Thomas Demand, Public Housing, 2003

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Public Housing, by Thomas Demand, demonstrates that not all good intentions end up in embarrassment and disappointment.

Before taking the photos, Thomas Demand builds by hand paper and cardboard models based on pictures. The original image for “Public Housing” is printed on the pink $10 banknote from Singapore. The housing estate is typical of the low-cost, high-rise housing blocks built in 1965 when Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia and decided to address the poor living conditions and housing issues. By 1965 the percentage of the local population living in public housing rose from 9% in 1959 to 23%. Roughly 80% of Singaporeans now live in flats built by the Housing and Development Board of Singapore, a city-state usually associated with finance rather than with policies that protect the underprivileged.

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Monica Bonvicini, Add Elegance to your Poverty, 1990/2016. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Monica Bonvicini‘s “Add Elegance to your Poverty” questions cynical approaches to real problems. Sprayed on a wall in Berlin, the sentence is a direct reference to an advertising claim which is often used to sell real estate in California: “Add Elegance to Your Property”. It also echoes the famous “Arm, aber sexy” (poor but sexy) coined by Berlin’s former mayor Klaus Wowereit in an attempt to gloss over the city’s budget deficits.

121423cfh3944
Miki Kratsman, Abu Dis 2003, 2003. Photo: Chelouche gallery

Israel’s self-defence law requires the installation of shelters in all buildings, including private houses. It also regulates the upkeep of bunkers in homes and factories. After the First Gulf War, steel concrete with access to the individual flats within a building were also added, providing thus easy access to a space of safety in case of chemical weapon attacks by neighbouring countries. Miki Kratsman’s photos show how these safe rooms are integrated into the urban landscape, outsiders would find it difficult to identify these shelters as structures created for situations of violence.

The intentionally unsensational view of these extremely politically and socially charged elements of the urban landscape alludes to the omnipresence of this conflict, precisely because of the incidental nature of Kratsman’s approach.

Kratsman also documented frontier posts along the Road 443. Although the road partly leads through Palestinian territory, it is only accessible to Israeli. In 2002, Israel prohibited Palestinians from using the road, by vehicle or on foot, for whatever purpose, including transport of goods or for medical emergencies.

I couldn’t find photos of either series online so i’ve picked up another one to illustrate his work.

Ingrid-Martens_Africa-Shafted_1
Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted, 2012

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted (trailer), 2012

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted (trailer), 2012

Ingrid Martens spent 5 years filming people who live in Ponte Tower, ‘the tallest and grandest urban slum in the world’. Conceived as a luxury residential complex for white people living in Johannesburg in the 1970s, the brutalist tower is built around a hollow inner core that provides light thanks to the windows that encircle the inner and outer exterior.

In the 1990s, the area surrounding the 54-storey building started to be associated with gang crimes. Most of the white privileged families moved to supposedly safer suburbs and the owners of the building left it to decay. Soon, South Africans of colour, as well as immigrants from neighbouring countries, moved in. The residential block grew to become densely populated, and acquired the reputation of being a ghetto. Today, after renovation and tightened security, the situation at Ponte is considered to have greatly improved.

Africa Shafted is a fascinating documentary that takes us on a ride up and down one of the lifts of the building. Documentary maker Ingrid Martens has the residents talk to the camera but most importantly talk to each other. They discuss the bad reputation of the building, the joy of living in an apartment that overlooks the whole city, the political and economic reasons why some of them had to leave their own country, the prejudices they encounter in their adopted country, etc.

The multitude of voices on African issues portrays a metaphor of Ponte as “Little Africa”, providing perspectives that not only cover the problems and dreams of prosperity of the continent, but poignant as well as provocative opinions on contemporary life.

Werner-Feiersinger_4_Morandi
Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Morandi), 2010

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Fregene), 2015

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Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Musmeci), 2015

Werner Feiersinger’s series of shots of Italian buildings from the 1950s to the 1970s reminds us of the power and audacity of the architectural applications of futurism. Even left to decay, these example of post-war architecture demonstrate that sometimes the past can be more radical than the present.

Dante Bini’s concrete domes, which were constructed with the help of moored balloons, are juxtaposed with shots from the ten-storey housing complex Corviale on the outskirts of Rome, and Vittorio Giorgini’s expressive concrete summer house in Baratti. The designs of these structures of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the emphatic commitment to a cosmopolitan society. This undeniably experimental architecture is defined by vitality and lightness, and bears testimony to the economic and cultural upswing in a time characterised by the belief that the future could be shaped with architectonic means.

Ausstellungsansicht_Beton_6
Tercerunquinto, Gráfica reportes de condición, 2010–2016. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Tercerunquinto, M-19 (Gráfica reportes de condición), 2010

Tercerunquinto‘s photo series Gráfica reportes de condición is a collection of so-called status quo reports (reportes de condición). The Mexican artist collective commissioned a specialist on restoration and structural preservation, and a group of students, to produce reports on the condition of graffiti throughout the city of Bogotá and in particular the ones that protest against social inequality and governmental misdeeds: “no more state terror”, “Neither your, nor my government”, “When hunger is the rule, rebellion is a right”, “Don’t vote – there is no space for our dreams in your ballot boxes.”

The slogans were then printed onto photographs of Bogotá in which the degree of social discontent is generally reflected in the urban landscape.

As in many countries, the public sphere is the billboard for those who wish to mobilise like-minded people or to express their dissatisfaction with existing circumstances. Like ethnologists of everyday life, Tercerunquinto commission inventories in order to study the interrelationship between society and urbanity.

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Jumana Manna, Government Quarter Study, 2014; Mark Boyle, Secretions: Blood, Sweat, Piss and Tears, 1978. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Jumana Manna’s sculptures are full size replicas of three concrete pillars found at the entrance of the Høyblokka (“H-Block”), a brutalist building located in Regjeringskvartalet, the government quarter in Oslo. Built in 1958, in a period of Post War optimism and aspirations of the Nordic model of the Welfare State, the building was partly destroyed in 2011 in the Norway attacks orchestrated by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik.

Following the bombing, the decision whether to preserve or demolish the Høyblokka and a building in the same quarter is at the center of an emotionally intense national debate.

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Tobias Zielony, Le Vele di Scampia, 2010

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Tobias Zielony, Le Vele di Scampia, 2010

Le Vele di Scampia is the popular name of a Brutalist housing complex in Naples made famous by the movie Gomorrah which used some of the district as its backdrop. Designed between 1962 and 1975 in brutalist style, the gigantic building complex was supposed to provide families with functional facilities for life in a residential community but it has long been controlled by the Mafia. With over 50% unemployment, the area has a very high crime rate and is considered to be one of Europe’s biggest drug dealing venues.

In Tobias Zielony‘s part social documentation part artistic experiment images, night shots of the architecture are interrupted by portraits of young people.

More images from the exhibition:

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David Maljkovic, Missing Colours, 2010

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Olaf Metzel, Treppenhaus Fridericianum, 1987. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Olaf Metzel, Treppenhaus Fridericianum, 1987. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Tom Burr, Brutalist Bulletin Board, 2001

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Hubert Kiecol, Zeile, 1981. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Hubert Kiecol, Zeile, 1981. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Andreas Bunte, Still from O.T. (Kirchen), 2012

Akhoj_Kasper
Kasper Akhøj, 999, 2015

Béton, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen and Vanessa Joan Müller, is at Kunsthalle Wien until 16 October 2016. The exhibition guide is available for download in PDF format.

Every Saturday, urbanist Eugene Quinn invites locals and tourists to Vienna ugly, a guided tours of Vienna’s most unattractive squares .

Related stories: Utopia London, Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century, Balkanology, New Architecture and Urban Phenomena in South Eastern Europe.

Béton: The history of a concrete-clad utopia

WF_F_113.001.O
Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Corviale), 2015

Long reviled, brutalism seems to be everyone’s favourite architectural style at the moment. The nostalgia for the late modernist architecture manifests itself through stunning coffee table books, brutalism appreciation society and plenty of campaigns to save some of its masterpieces.

If the rude charms and resolute geometries of brutalism have been somewhat rehabilitated, its utopian ambitions have not. Buildings made of the cement and stone amalgam still carry with them the stigma of the egalitarian commitments and social advances they promised but spectacularly failed to deliver.

Terada-Concrete
Ron Terada, Concrete Language, 2006/2016

Instead of enriching people’s lives with carefully proportioned dwellings and safe green space for socializing, the structures ghettoised the poor and betrayed their top-down (if well-meaning) designs.

Béton, an exhibition that opened a few months ago at Kunsthalle Wien, is entirely dedicated to brutalism. Its title alludes to the etymology of the architectural movement: béton brut, which can be translated into ‘exposed concrete.’

The show doesn’t intend to debate on the merits and shortcomings of concrete and its uses in building and engineering. Instead, it invites us to revisit the radical ideas and social utopia that these working-class housing and public buildings attempted to embody .

Aiming to change society, brutalist architecture virtually gave shape to utopia. Today, many of the buildings built at the time are threatened with demolition; they are considered to have failed their purpose. In light of a modernism stained by dystopia, contemporary art once again carve out its original ideas, its euphoria, but also its failure. Not out of a nostalgic longing but for the sake of remembering that architecture was once more than enclosed space, and concrete was not merely a building material but was historically and ideologically charged.

While i was in town to visit AJNHAJTCLUB at Q21, i crossed the square of the MuseumsQuartier and spent a couple of hours walking through the Béton exhibition…

Gillick_Liam_Beton0
Liam Gillick, Pain in a building, 1999

The UK has its fair share of brutalist estates and buildings that didn’t live up to the democratizing aspirations of their architects and planners. Thamesmead in Greater London is a good example of what happens when commendable utopia has to contend with economic realities. Conceived in the 1960s as the town of the future, Thamesmead promised to combine city life with the joys of the countryside: green spaces, a nature reserve and an artificial lake. However, the experiment quickly turned sour. Plans to build a shopping center around a marina, a train station and other amenities had to be scrapped because of financial difficulties. Criminality rose quickly and in the late ’70s, the neighbourhood was used as a sink estate by the councils around.

Stanley Kubrick filmed some of the key scenes of his 1971 film A Clockwork Orange in Thamesmead. The town served as the setting for a dystopic London ruled by anarchy and violence.

Fe10deman1697
Thomas Demand, Public Housing, 2003

2demand6622_b

Public Housing, by Thomas Demand, demonstrates that not all good intentions end up in embarrassment and disappointment.

Before taking the photos, Thomas Demand builds by hand paper and cardboard models based on pictures. The original image for “Public Housing” is printed on the pink $10 banknote from Singapore. The housing estate is typical of the low-cost, high-rise housing blocks built in 1965 when Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia and decided to address the poor living conditions and housing issues. By 1965 the percentage of the local population living in public housing rose from 9% in 1959 to 23%. Roughly 80% of Singaporeans now live in flats built by the Housing and Development Board of Singapore, a city-state usually associated with finance rather than with policies that protect the underprivileged.

1ponvivin63110_2053962845338152976_o
Monica Bonvicini, Add Elegance to your Poverty, 1990/2016. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

Monica Bonvicini‘s “Add Elegance to your Poverty” questions cynical approaches to real problems. Sprayed on a wall in Berlin, the sentence is a direct reference to an advertising claim which is often used to sell real estate in California: “Add Elegance to Your Property”. It also echoes the famous “Arm, aber sexy” (poor but sexy) coined by Berlin’s former mayor Klaus Wowereit in an attempt to gloss over the city’s budget deficits.

121423cfh3944
Miki Kratsman, Abu Dis 2003, 2003. Photo: Chelouche gallery

Israel’s self-defence law requires the installation of shelters in all buildings, including private houses. It also regulates the upkeep of bunkers in homes and factories. After the First Gulf War, steel concrete with access to the individual flats within a building were also added, providing thus easy access to a space of safety in case of chemical weapon attacks by neighbouring countries. Miki Kratsman’s photos show how these safe rooms are integrated into the urban landscape, outsiders would find it difficult to identify these shelters as structures created for situations of violence.

The intentionally unsensational view of these extremely politically and socially charged elements of the urban landscape alludes to the omnipresence of this conflict, precisely because of the incidental nature of Kratsman’s approach.

Kratsman also documented frontier posts along the Road 443. Although the road partly leads through Palestinian territory, it is only accessible to Israeli. In 2002, Israel prohibited Palestinians from using the road, by vehicle or on foot, for whatever purpose, including transport of goods or for medical emergencies.

I couldn’t find photos of either series online so i’ve picked up another one to illustrate his work.

Ingrid-Martens_Africa-Shafted_1
Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted, 2012

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted (trailer), 2012

Ingrid Martens, Africa Shafted (trailer), 2012

Ingrid Martens spent 5 years filming people who live in Ponte Tower, ‘the tallest and grandest urban slum in the world’. Conceived as a luxury residential complex for white people living in Johannesburg in the 1970s, the brutalist tower is built around a hollow inner core that provides light thanks to the windows that encircle the inner and outer exterior.

In the 1990s, the area surrounding the 54-storey building started to be associated with gang crimes. Most of the white privileged families moved to supposedly safer suburbs and the owners of the building left it to decay. Soon, South Africans of colour, as well as immigrants from neighbouring countries, moved in. The residential block grew to become densely populated, and acquired the reputation of being a ghetto. Today, after renovation and tightened security, the situation at Ponte is considered to have greatly improved.

Africa Shafted is a fascinating documentary that takes us on a ride up and down one of the lifts of the building. Documentary maker Ingrid Martens has the residents talk to the camera but most importantly talk to each other. They discuss the bad reputation of the building, the joy of living in an apartment that overlooks the whole city, the political and economic reasons why some of them had to leave their own country, the prejudices they encounter in their adopted country, etc.

The multitude of voices on African issues portrays a metaphor of Ponte as “Little Africa”, providing perspectives that not only cover the problems and dreams of prosperity of the continent, but poignant as well as provocative opinions on contemporary life.

Werner-Feiersinger_4_Morandi
Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Morandi), 2010

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Fregene), 2015

WF_F_112.001.O
Werner Feiersinger, Untitled (Musmeci), 2015

Werner Feiersinger’s series of shots of Italian buildings from the 1950s to the 1970s reminds us of the power and audacity of the architectural applications of futurism. Even left to decay, these example of post-war architecture demonstrate that sometimes the past can be more radical than the present.

Dante Bini’s concrete domes, which were constructed with the help of moored balloons, are juxtaposed with shots from the ten-storey housing complex Corviale on the outskirts of Rome, and Vittorio Giorgini’s expressive concrete summer house in Baratti. The designs of these structures of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the emphatic commitment to a cosmopolitan society. This undeniably experimental architecture is defined by vitality and lightness, and bears testimony to the economic and cultural upswing in a time characterised by the belief that the future could be shaped with architectonic means.

Ausstellungsansicht_Beton_6
Tercerunquinto, Gráfica reportes de condición, 2010–2016. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Tercerunquinto, M-19 (Gráfica reportes de condición), 2010

Tercerunquinto‘s photo series Gráfica reportes de condición is a collection of so-called status quo reports (reportes de condición). The Mexican artist collective commissioned a specialist on restoration and structural preservation, and a group of students, to produce reports on the condition of graffiti throughout the city of Bogotá and in particular the ones that protest against social inequality and governmental misdeeds: “no more state terror”, “Neither your, nor my government”, “When hunger is the rule, rebellion is a right”, “Don’t vote – there is no space for our dreams in your ballot boxes.”

The slogans were then printed onto photographs of Bogotá in which the degree of social discontent is generally reflected in the urban landscape.

As in many countries, the public sphere is the billboard for those who wish to mobilise like-minded people or to express their dissatisfaction with existing circumstances. Like ethnologists of everyday life, Tercerunquinto commission inventories in order to study the interrelationship between society and urbanity.

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Jumana Manna, Government Quarter Study, 2014; Mark Boyle, Secretions: Blood, Sweat, Piss and Tears, 1978. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

Jumana Manna’s sculptures are full size replicas of three concrete pillars found at the entrance of the Høyblokka (“H-Block”), a brutalist building located in Regjeringskvartalet, the government quarter in Oslo. Built in 1958, in a period of Post War optimism and aspirations of the Nordic model of the Welfare State, the building was partly destroyed in 2011 in the Norway attacks orchestrated by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik.

Following the bombing, the decision whether to preserve or demolish the Høyblokka and a building in the same quarter is at the center of an emotionally intense national debate.

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Tobias Zielony, Le Vele di Scampia, 2010

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Tobias Zielony, Le Vele di Scampia, 2010

Le Vele di Scampia is the popular name of a Brutalist housing complex in Naples made famous by the movie Gomorrah which used some of the district as its backdrop. Designed between 1962 and 1975 in brutalist style, the gigantic building complex was supposed to provide families with functional facilities for life in a residential community but it has long been controlled by the Mafia. With over 50% unemployment, the area has a very high crime rate and is considered to be one of Europe’s biggest drug dealing venues.

In Tobias Zielony‘s part social documentation part artistic experiment images, night shots of the architecture are interrupted by portraits of young people.

More images from the exhibition:

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David Maljkovic, Missing Colours, 2010

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Olaf Metzel, Treppenhaus Fridericianum, 1987. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Olaf Metzel, Treppenhaus Fridericianum, 1987. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Tom Burr, Brutalist Bulletin Board, 2001

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Hubert Kiecol, Zeile, 1981. Opening of the exhibition. Photo: Joanna Pianka (eSeL.at) for Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier

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Hubert Kiecol, Zeile, 1981. Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Installation view: Béton, Kunsthalle Wien 2016, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff

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Andreas Bunte, Still from O.T. (Kirchen), 2012

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Kasper Akhøj, 999, 2015

Béton, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen and Vanessa Joan Müller, is at Kunsthalle Wien until 16 October 2016. The exhibition guide is available for download in PDF format.

Every Saturday, urbanist Eugene Quinn invites locals and tourists to Vienna ugly, a guided tours of Vienna’s most unattractive squares .

Related stories: Utopia London, Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century, Balkanology, New Architecture and Urban Phenomena in South Eastern Europe.

AJNHAJTCLUB, a celebration of migrant workers

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Bernd Oppl, Crooked Building, 2015

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Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

AJNHAJTCLUB, an exhibition at frei_raum Q21 in Vienna, celebrates the men and women who came from Yugoslavia (now Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina) to work in Austria.

50 years ago, on 4 April 1966, the two countries signed a contract that regulated the legal and voluntary migration of labor towards Austria, and created the Gastarbeiter (guestworker) phenomenon. Austria needed unskilled workers to support the surge of industrialization and Yugoslavia benefited from the money that workers sent to their families back home.

One of the articles of the agreement stipulated that the newcomers had the right to keep and develop their own cultural identity into workers social clubs. The clubs offered immigrants a way to connect to their roots as much as it kept them away from the street.

That’s from these clubs that the slightly baffling name of the show comes from. AJNHAJTCLUB means oneness or unity club in english. The German word for it is “EINHEIT CLUB” and AJNHAJTCLUB is the phonetic transcription of the word. Because many newcomers to Austria could not speak German this type of spelling was often used to simplify verbal communication between cultures. One of the artists in the show, Goran Novaković aka Goxilla, actually set up a class room in the space upstairs so that visitors can learn to pronounce correctly a look-a-like-language that they can not actually speak.

AJNHAJTCLUB is a contemporary “club” that “aims to unite these migrants’ past and present narratives using contemporary artistic practice and research, providing a look back to inform the future. Although more familiar from black and white imagery, the guestworker phenomenon is still alive. The exhibition shows this phenomenon in full color, complete with animated 3D avatars, modern folklore, interactive performances and contemporary interventions.”

It is tempting to see parallels between the focus of the exhibition and the current refugee situation in Europe. The context is quite different though. While Gastarbeiter came as a result of an agreement between two countries, the people who arrive in Europe today have been forced to leave their home because of the consequence of wars and other global developments.

AJNHAJTCLUB is a brave, timely and intelligent show that celebrates immigration and the economic and cultural contribution it can bring to a host country (i only wish that Trump, Brexiters and their likes across the world would visit it.) AJNHAJTCLUB could have been an exhibition full of gravity, nostalgia and anxiety. And indeed it sometimes features moments as serious as the times we are living but it is mostly a show full of humour, lightness and self-irony.

A quick walk through some of the works exhibited:

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Milan Mijalkovic, Arbeiter mit Vorschlaghammer (Worker with Sledgehammer), 2015. From the series Arbeiter

Milan Mijalkovic‘s large format photograph Worker with Sledgehammer portrays a worker on a trash bin in the middle of a construction site. The heroic posture and the bin used as a pedestal celebrate anonymous migrant workers who, every day, physically erect buildings throughout the country.

Milan Mijalkovic, The Monument of the Working Man

The bitter-sweet Monument of the Working Man was one of my favourite works in the show.

The video shows balloons that are seemingly blown up automatically by a machine hidden inside the beige pedestal. But the balloons are actually inflated by a man who barely fits inside the box. The artist found the worker in front of a store where workmen gather and offer illicit labor. A Romanian bricklayer agreed to do it, demanding 1 Euro per balloon.

The deflated balloons on the floor are a sign that the party is over. In this work, the artist adopts the role of the brutal employer, reminding us of the reality, where this kind of
exploitation is carried out on a daily basis. Using people to operate the machines in closed boxes is cheaper than using a reliable machine-operated system
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Addie Wagenknecht, Optimization of Parenthood, Part 2. Photo: Bernd Oppl

Addie Wagenknecht’s Optimization of Parenting is a robot arm that gently rocks the cradle whenever the baby cries and the mother is at work. The work pays homage to the women who left their home to work in Austria back in the 1960’s. Some of them had to leave their children with the grandparents. The installation also alludes to the fact that in these time of growing automation when many jobs can be done by machines, the roles and tasks of guestworkers are changing.

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Bogomir Doringer in collaboration with Nature History Museum Vienna, Curated by Nature, 2016

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Bogomir Doringer in collaboration with Nature History Museum Vienna, Curated by Nature. Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

Because migrants are often compared to migrant birds, Bogomir Doringer, an artist but also the curator of the exhibition, asked experts from the nearby Natural History Museum to select a series of birds whose narrative could be compared to the one of the guest workers.

Some of the birds in the showcase go back each year to the place they come from. Others stay in the new territory and become part of its ecosystem. Either because they find better living conditions or because their original habitat has changed for the worse. Some of these birds are called “invasive species.”

Interestingly, one of the birds selected is the Eurasian Collared Dove. The species came from Asia via the Balkans to Vienna and is now regarded as a typical Viennese bird.

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Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

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Evelyn Bencicova & Adam Csoka Keller, ASYMPTOTE

In the elegant and almost clinical images produced by Evelyn Bencicova and Adam Csoka Keller, anonymous models pose next to buildings from the socialist period of Slovakia. Their forms seem to merge into the powerful architecture, suggesting that bodies function as pillars for institutional constructions and for an ideology that raised much hope but eventually failed. The work also suggests that to a young generation often described as ‘individualist’, the aesthetic of collective participation must have a very seductive, if abstract, appeal…

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

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Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains (film still), 1971

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Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains (film still), 1971

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Krsto Papićs, The Special Trains, 1971

Krsto Papićs’ The Special Trains is an extremely moving documentary.

It shows how the men who had volunteered to emigrate to Austria or Germany are transported by “special trains.” They are accompanied by a guide who ensures that they will arrive at their final destination quietly and cause as little disorder as possible. Prior to their trip, the workers are submitted to medical inspections to make sure that they will be strong and healthy enough to get a worker permit.

The film maker interviewed a group of these Yugoslavian guestworkers on the train. Many of them had to leave their family behind and most are a bit dispirited, wondering if they had made the right choice, realizing how hard it will be not to see their children, fearing that they will be regarded as second class citizens, lamenting the fact that they will feel uncomfortable in a country they know so little of. The film follows their arrival at Munich main station, where they are led to a basement. From this point on, they are no longer called by their names but by numbers.

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Bernd Oppl, Crooked Building, 2015

Bernd Oppl distorted sculpture of a social housing block in Vienna highlights the inherent instability of such spaces. The Crooked Building also reminds visitors that while the guestworkers actually built the structures, they received quite late (compared to other countries) the right to get access to social housing.

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Nikola Knezevic, V for Vienna (cropped window), 2016. Photo: Joanna Pianka

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Nikola Knezevic. Installation view frei_raum Q21 exhibition space. Photo: Q21

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Nikola Knezevic, The Placeholders (three oil paintings), 2016

Nikola Knežević‘s tryptich was another stand-out for me.

V for Vienna (cropped window) is a trophy to a guestworker employed in an aluminum factory in Vienna. Part of his job involved making each of the aluminum windows and doors for the Hilton Hotel in Vienna. The worker feels proud each time he now walks by the hotel.

The Placeholders are Mondrian-style paintings that allude to the presence of the phenomenon of guestworkers on the largest contemporary archive in the world: the Internet. Knezevic did an image search for the word Gastarbeiter and encountered mostly black and white images. Before the images appear on the screen, they are represented by placeholder filled with the dominant colour of each image. The placeholders that emerged while googling Gastarbeiter were sent to an oil painting company in China, where they were turned into abstract paintings and shipped back to Vienna. Everything was commissioned, executed and paid from a distance. The workforce is no longer required to be mobile as it was in the 1960s.

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Nikola Knezevic, Not Yet Titled, 2016

The final work in the series, Not Yet Titled, brings side by side an ORF documentary from the 1970s about guestworkers and the opening sequence of Orson Welles’ film F for Fake (1974.) Both films use the same editing technique, the former to depict guestworkers, and the latter to introduce a professional art forger.

In each case, the camera follows a young woman in miniskirt walking in the street while male passersby (unaware that they are being filmed) stop on their track and openly stare at her. The woman in the ORF report is presented as an objectified and slightly threatened victim, while the one in Welles’ movie (who in real life was a Croatian woman living in Vienna), as a powerful temptress who directs men’s desire. The voice over of the ORF film even deplores that the guestworkers came with very few women.

The juxtaposition shows how similar images can be manipulated and given a different interpretation depending on the message that has to be communicated.

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Olga Dimitrijevic. Photo Joanna Pianka for Q21

Olga Dimitrijević set up a “celebratory karaoke bar,” where visitors are invited to perform songs based on the lives and favourite songs of ex-Yugoslav women who live and work in Vienna.

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Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved our Collective Body (still from the film), 2013

Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved our Collective Body (trailer), 2013

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Marta Popivoda, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved our Collective Body (still from the film), 2013

In the center of the exhibition is a monumental projection of Marta Popivoda’s film study on “Yugoslavia: How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body (2013)”. The film uses archive footage to draw a personal perspective on the history of socialist Yugoslavia and its tragic end. The footage focuses on state performances (such as May Day parades and Youth Day celebrations) and on counter-demonstrations (student and civic demonstrations in the ‘90s, and the so-called Bulldozer Revolution which overthrew Slobodan Milošević in 2000.) Ultimately, the archive images demonstrate how ideology has the power to shape performances of crowds of people operating as one, but it also exposes the power of the same crowds to destroy the ideology.

More images from the exhibition:

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Marko Lulic, für ein Denkmal für Migration in Perusic. Photo: Joanna Pianka

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Josip Novosel, U Can Sit With Us. Photo: Bernd Oppl

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Leyla Cardenas, Overlaying. Photo: Bernd Oppl

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Claudia Maté, Untitled

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

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Opening of the exhibition. Photo Foto: eSeL – Joanna Pianka for Q21

If you speak german, then well done you! You can enjoy this interview that Vice did with curator and artist Bogomir Doringer. Otherwise, i’d recommend the lively audio guide tour with the curator.

AJNHAJTCLUB was curated by Bogomir Doringer. The show remains open at the frei_raum Q21 exhibition space, MuseumsQuartier in Vienna until 4 September 2016.

MENACE 2, an artificial intelligence made of wooden drawers and coloured beads

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Julien Prévieux, MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine), 2010. Image Jousse Entreprise

In 1961, Donald Michie, a British WWII code breaker and a researcher in artificial intelligence, developed MENACE (the Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine), one of the first programs capable of learning to play and win a game of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe if you’re American.) The work emerged from his wartime discussions with Alan Turing about whether or not computers could be programmed to learn from experience.

Since he had no computers at his disposal at the time, he created a device built out of matchboxes and glass beads to simulate a learning algorithm.

A few years ago, Julien Prévieux (who’s imho one of the most interesting artists of the moment) recreated the machine under the form of a beautiful wooden piece of furniture. MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine) can be played right now at Kunsthalle Wien where it is part of The Promise of Total Automation, an exhibition that explores machines and their potential to elevate or enslave us (i reviewed it last week.)

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Julien Prévieux, MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine), 2010. Image Jousse Entreprise

Here’s how MENACE works:

There are 304 little wooden drawers (or matchboxes in the original version created by Michie.) Each of them represents a unique board position that the player can encounter during a game. Each drawer is filled with coloured beads that represent a different move in that board state. The quantity of a colour indicated the “certainty” that playing the corresponding move would lead to a win.

Menace “learns” to win the game by playing repeatedly against the human player, honing its strategy until its opponent is only able to draw or lose against it. The trial and error learning process involves being “punished” for losing and “rewarded” for drawing or winning. This type of machine learning is called reinforcement learning.

Menace always plays first.

1st move, Menace’s turn: The operator opens the top left matchbox/drawer that displays the empty board, opens it and takes out a random bead. The color of that bead determines the space that Menace will mark with a cross or a nough. The player marks the move on the grid and puts the beard on a specially-designed little container added in front of the drawer to remember Menace’s move.

2nd move, the human player places his or her counter on the grid.

3rd move, Menace’s turn: the player identifies the drawer that displays the current board layout, opens it and takes out a random bead. Once again, the color of that bead determines the space that Menace will mark with a cross or a nough. The process is identical to the 1st move.

4th move, player’s turn: The human player places the counter in the spot that will prevent Menace from getting three in a row.

The operator/player keeps on playing until the end.

When Menace loses, the beads on the drawers are put aside, in a bag. This will decrease the probability of Menace making those moves in those states again. If it was a draw, an extra bead of the colour played is added inside each relevant matchbox/drawer. And if Menace wins, three extra beads of the same colour are added, making it more likely that it will makes those moves again next time.

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Julien Prévieux, MENACE 2 (Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine), 2010. Image Jousse Entreprise

This wooden version of artificial intelligence is crafty, unassuming and stylish but its low-tech appearance might make us forget about the fears and doubts we might have when we think about artificial intelligence. AI is no longer a topic of science fiction novels, it is a field of research that’s evolving rapidly and is seen by some as threatening to take over our jobs and govern our daily lives.

The Promise of Total Automation was curated by Anne Faucheret. The exhibition is open until 29 May at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna. Don’t miss it if you’re in the area.

Also in the exhibition: Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2) or the quest for free energy. For my review of the show, press play.

The Promise of Total Automation

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Installation view The Promise of Total Automation. Image Kunsthalle Wien

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Cécile B. Evans, How happy a Thing Can Be, 2014. Image Kunsthalle Wien

The word ‘automation’ is appearing in places that would have seemed unlikely to most people less than a decade ago: journalism, art, design or law. Robots and algorithms are being increasingly convincing at doing things just like humans. And sometimes even better than humans.

The Promise of Total Automation, an exhibition recently opened at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, looks at our troubled relationship with machines. Technical devices that were originally designed to serve and assist us and are now getting smarter and harder to control and comprehend. Does their growing autonomy mean that the machines will one day overpower us? Or will they remain our subservient little helpers, our gateway to greater knowledge and sovereignty?

The “promise of total automation” was the battle cry of Fordism. What we nowadays call “technology” is an already co-opted version of it, being instrumentalised for production, communication, control and body-enhancements, that is for a colonisation and rationalisation of space, time and minds. Still technology cannot be reduced to it. In the exhibition, automation, improvisation and sense of wonder are not opposed but sustain each other. The artistic positions consider technology as complex as it is, animated at the same time by rational and irrational dynamics.

The Promise of Total Automation is an intelligent, inquisitive and engrossing exhibition. Its investigation into the tensions and dilemmas of human/machines relationship explore themes that go from artificial intelligence to industrial aesthetics, from bio-politics to theories of conspiracy, from e-waste to resistance to innovation, from archaeology of digital communication to utopias that won’t die.

The show is dense in information and invitations to ponder so don’t forget to pick up one of the free information booklet at the entrance of the show. You’re going to need it!

A not-so-quick walk around the show:

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James Benning, Stemple Pass, 2012

James Benning‘s film Stemple Pass is made of four static shots, each from the same angle and each 30 minutes long, showing a cabin in the middle of a forest in spring, fall, winter and summer. The modest building is a replica of the hideout of anti-technology terrorist Ted Kaczynski. The soundtrack alternates between the ambient sound of the forest and Benning reading from the Unabomber’s journals, encrypted documents and manifesto.

Kaczynski’s texts hover between his love for nature and his intention to destroy and murder. Between his daily life in the woods and his fears that technology is going to turn into an instrument that enables the powerful elite to take control over society. What is shocking is not so much the violence of his words because you expect them. It’s when he gets it right that you get upset. When he expresses his distrust of the merciless rise of technology, his doubts regarding the promises of innovation and it somehow makes sense to you.

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Konrad Klapheck, Der Chef, 1965. Photo: © Museum Kunstpalast – ARTOTHEK

Konrad Klapheck’s paintings ‘portray’ devices that were becoming mainstream in 1960s households: vacuum cleaner, typewriters, sewing machines, telephones, etc. In his works, the objects are abstracted from any context, glorified and personified. In the typewriter series, he even assigns roles to the objects. They are Herrscher (ruler), Diktator, Gesetzgeber (lawgiver) or Chef (boss.) These titles allude to the important role that the instruments have taken in administrative and economic systems.

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Tyler Coburn, Sabots, 2016, courtesy of the artist, photo: David Avazzadeh

This unassuming small pair of 3D-printed clogs alludes to the workers struggles of the Industrial Revolution. The title of the piece, Sabots, means clogs in french. The word sabotage allegedly comes from it. The story says that when French farmers left the countryside to come and work in factories they kept on wearing their peasant clogs. These shoes were not suited for factory works and as a consequence, the word ‘saboter’ came to mean ‘to work clumsily or incompetently’ or ‘to make a mess of things.’ Another apocryphal story says that disgruntled workers blamed the clogs when they damaged or tampered machinery. Another version saw the workers throwing their clogs at the machine to destroy it.

In the early 20th century, labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) advocated withdrawal of efficiency as a means of self-defense against unfair working conditions. They called it sabotage.

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Tyler Coburn, Waste Management, 2013-15

Tyler Coburn contributed another work to the show. Waste Management looks like a pair of natural stones but the rocks are actually made out of electronic waste, more precisely the glass from old computer monitors and fiber powder from printed circuit boards that were mixed with epoxy and then molded in an electronic recycling factory in Taiwan. The country is not only a leader in the export of electronics, but also in the development of e-waste processing technologies that turn electronic trash into architectural bricks, gold potassium cyanide, precious metals—and even artworks such as these rocks. Coburn bought them there as a ready made. They evoke the Chinese scholar’s rocks. By the early Song dynasty (960–1279), the Chinese started collecting small ornamental rocks, especially the rocks that had been sculpted naturally by processes of erosion.
Coburn’s rocks are thus artificial objects that crave an aesthetic value that can only come from natural objects.

Accompanying these objects is a printed broadsheet which narrates the circulation and transformation of a CRT monitor into the stone artworks. The story follows from the “it-narrative” or novel of circulation, a sub-genre of 18th Century literature, in which currencies and commodities narrated their circulation within a then-emerging global economy.

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Osborne & Felsenstein, Personal Computer Osborne 1a and Monitor NEC, 1981, Loan Vienna Technical Museum, photo: David Avazzadeh

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Adam Osborne and Lee Felsenstein, Personal Computer Osborne 1a, 1981, Courtesy Technisches Museum, Wien

Several artifacts ground the exhibition into the technological and cultural history of automation: A mechanical Jacquard loom, often regarded as a key step in the history of computing hardware because of the way it used punched cards to control operations. A mysterious-looking arithmometer, the first digital mechanical calculator reliable enough to be used at the office to automate mathematical calculations. A Morse code telegraph, the first invention to effectively exploit electromagnetism for long-distance communication and thus a pioneer of digital communication. A cybernetic model from 1956 (see further below) and the first ‘portable’ computer.

Released in 1981 by Osborne Computer Corporation, the Osborne 1 was the first commercially successful portable microcomputer. It weighed 10.7 kg (23.5 lb), cost $1,795 USD, had a tiny screen (5-inch/13 cm) and no battery.

At the peak of demand, Osborne was shipping over 10,000 units a month. However, Osborne Computer Corporation shot itself in the foot when they prematurely announced the release of their next generation models. The news put a stop to the sales of the current unit, contributing to throwing the company into bankruptcy. This has comes to be known as the Osborne effect.

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Kybernetisches Modell Eier: Die Maus im Labyrinth (Cybernetics Model Eier: The Mouse in the Maze), 1956. Image Kunsthalle Wien

Around 1960, scientists started to build cybernetic machines in order to study artificial intelligence. One of these machines was a maze-solving mouse built by Claude E. Shannon to study the labyrinthian path that a call made using telephone switching systems should take to reach its destination. The device contained a maze that could be arranged to create various paths. The system followed the idea of Ariadne’s thread, the mouse marking each field with the path information, like the Greek mythological figure did when she helped Theseus find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Richard Eier later re-built the maze-solving mouse and improved Shannon’s method by replacing the thread with two two-bits memory units.

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Régis Mayot, JEANNE & CIE, 2015. Image Kunsthalle Wien

In 2011, the CIAV (the international center for studio glass in Meisenthal, France) invited Régis Mayot to work in their studios. The designer decided to explore the moulds themselves, rather than the objects that were produced using them. By a process of sand moulding, the designer revealed the mechanical beauty of some of these historical tools, producing prints of a selection of moulds that were then blown by craftsmen in glass.

Jeanne et Cie (named after one of the moulds chosen by the designer) highlights how the aesthetics of objects are the result of the industrial instruments and processes that enter into their manufacturing.

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Bureau d’études, ME, 2013, © Léonore Bonaccini and Xavier Fourt

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Bureau d’Etudes, Electromagnetic Propaganda, 2010

The exhibition also presented a selection of Bureau d´Études‘ intricate and compelling cartographies that visualize covert connections between actors and interests in contemporary political, social and economic systems. Because knowledge is power, the maps are meant as instruments that can be used as part of social movements. The ones displayed at Kunsthalle Wien included the maps of Electro-Magnetic Propaganda, Government of the Agro-Industrial System and the 8th Sphere.

Mark Leckey, Pearl Vision, 2012

I fell in love with Mark Leckey‘s video. So much that i’ll have to dedicate another post to his work. One day.

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David Jourdan, Untitled, 2016, © David Jourdan

David Jourdan’s poster alludes to an ad in which newspaper Der Standard announced that its digital format was ‘almost as good as paper.’

More images from the exhibition:

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Magali Reus, Leaves, 2015

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Thomas Bayrle, Kleiner koreanischer Wiper

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Juan Downey, Nostalgic Item, 1967, Estate of Joan Downey courtesy of Marilys B. Downey, photo: David Avazzadeh

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Judith Fegerl, still, 2013, © Judith Fegerl, Courtesy Galerie Hubert Winter, Wien

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Wesley Meuris, Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering, 2014. Image Kunsthalle Wien

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Installation view The Promise of Total Automation. Image Kunsthalle Wien

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Installation view. Image Kunsthalle Wien

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Installation view. Image Kunsthalle Wien

More images on my flickr album.

The Promise of Total Automation was curated by Anne Faucheret. The exhibition is open until 29 May at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna. Don’t miss it if you’re in the area.