The New Observatory at FACT

The New Observatory opened at FACT, Liverpool on Thursday 22nd of June and runs until October 1st.

The exhibition, curated by Hannah Redler Hawes and Sam Skinner, in collaboration with The Open Data Institute, transforms the FACT galleries into a playground of micro-observatories, fusing art with data science in an attempt to expand the reach of both. Reflecting on the democratisation of tools which allow new ways of sensing and analysing, The New Observatory asks visitors to reconsider raw, taciturn ‘data’ through a variety of vibrant, surprising, and often ingenious artistic affects and interactions. What does it mean for us to become observers of ourselves? What role does the imagination have to play in the construction of a reality accessed via data infrastructures, algorithms, numbers, and mobile sensors? And how can the model of the observatory help us better understand how the non-human world already measures and aggregates information about itself?

In its simplest form an observatory is merely an enduring location from which to view terrestrial or celestial phenomena. Stone circles, such as Stonehenge in the UK, were simple, but powerful, measuring tools, aligned to mark the arc of the sun, the moon or certain star systems as they careered across ancient skies. Today we observe the world with less monumental, but far more powerful, sensing tools. And the site of the observatory, once rooted to specific locations on an ever spinning Earth, has become as mobile and malleable as the clouds which once impeded our ancestors’ view of the summer solstice. The New Observatory considers how ubiquitous, and increasingly invisible, technologies of observation have impacted the scale at which we sense, measure, and predict.

 

FACT Liverpool The New Observatory Art installations.
Images by Gareth Jones

 

The Citizen Sense research group, led by Jennifer Gabrys, presents Dustbox as part of the show. A project started in 2016 to give residents of Deptford, South London, the chance to measure air pollution in their neighbourhoods. Residents borrowed the Dustboxes from their local library, a series of beautiful, black ceramic sensor boxes shaped like air pollutant particles blown to macro scales. By visiting citizensense.net participants could watch their personal data aggregated and streamed with others to create a real-time data map of local air particulates. The collapse of the micro and the macro lends the project a surrealist quality. As thousands of data points coalesce to produce a shared vision of the invisible pollutants all around us, the pleasing dimples, spikes and impressions of each ceramic Dustbox give that infinitesimal world a cartoonish charisma. Encased in a glass display cabinet as part of the show, my desire to stroke and caress each Dustbox was strong. Like the protagonist in Richard Matheson’s 1956 novel The Shrinking Man, once the scale of the microscopic world was given a form my human body could empathise with, I wanted nothing more than to descend into that space, becoming a pollutant myself caught on Deptford winds.

Moving from the microscopic to the scale of living systems, Julie Freeman’s 2015/2016 project, A Selfless Society, transforms the patterns of a naked mole-rat colony into an abstract minimalist animation projected into the gallery. Naked mole-rats are one of only two species of ‘eusocial’ mammals, living in shared underground burrows that distantly echo the patterns of other ‘superorganism’ colonies such as ants or bees. To be eusocial is to live and work for a single Queen, whose sole responsibility it is to breed and give birth on behalf of the colony. For A Selfless Society, Freeman attached Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chips to each non-breeding mole-rat, allowing their interactions to be logged as the colony went about its slippery subterranean business. The result is a meditation on the ‘missing’ data point: the Queen, whose entire existence is bolstered and maintained by the altruistic behaviours of her wrinkly, buck-teethed family. The work is accompanied by a series of naked mole-rat profile shots, in which the eyes of each creature have been redacted with a thick black line. Freeman’s playful anonymising gesture gives each mole-rat its due, reminding us that behind every model we impel on our data there exist countless, untold subjects bound to the bodies that compel the larger story to life.

 

FACT Liverpool The New Observatory Art installations.
Images by Gareth Jones

 

Natasha Caruana’s works in the exhibition centre on the human phenomena of love, as understood through social datasets related to marriage and divorce. For her work Divorce Index Caruana translated data on a series of societal ‘pressures’ that are correlated with failed marriages – access to healthcare, gambling, unemployment – into a choreographed dance routine. To watch a video of the dance, enacted by Caruana and her husband, viewers must walk or stare through another work, Curtain of Broken Dreams, an interlinked collection of 1,560 pawned or discarded wedding rings. Both the works come out of a larger project the artist undertook in the lead-up to the 1st year anniversary of her own marriage. Having discovered that divorce rates were highest in the coastal towns of the UK, Caruana toured the country staying in a series of AirBnB house shares with men who had recently gone through a divorce. Her journey was plotted on dry statistical data related to one of the most significant and personal of human experiences, a neat juxtaposition that lends the work a surreal humour, without sentimentalising the experiences of either Caruana or the divorced men she came into contact with.

 

FACT Liverpool The New Observatory exhibition. Opening night images.
Images by Gareth Jones

 

The New Observatory features many screens, across which data visualisations bloom, or cameras look upwards, outwards or inwards. As part of the Libre Space Foundation artist Kei Kreutler installed an open networked satellite station on the roof of FACT, allowing visitors to the gallery a live view of the thousands of satellites that career across the heavens. For his Inverted Night Sky project, artist Jeronimo Voss presents a concave domed projection space, within which the workings of the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy teeter and glide. But perhaps the most striking, and prominent use of screens, is James Coupe’s work A Machine for Living. A four-storey wooden watchtower, dotted on all sides with widescreen displays wired into the topmost tower section, within which a bank of computer servers computes the goings on displayed to visitors. The installation is a monument to members of the public who work for Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing system run by corporate giant Amazon that connects an invisible workforce of online, human minions to individuals and businesses who can employ them to carry out their bidding. A Machine for Living is the result of James Coupe’s playful subversion of the system, in which he asked mTurk workers to observe and reflect on elements of their own daily lives. On the screens winding up the structure we watch mTurk workers narrating their dance moves as they jiggle on the sofa, we see workers stretching and labelling their yoga positions, or running through the meticulous steps that make up the algorithm of their dinner routine. The screens switch between users so regularly, and the tasks they carry out as so diverse and often surreal, that the installation acts as a miniature exhibition within an exhibition. A series of digital peepholes into the lives of a previously invisible workforce, their labour drafted into the manufacture of an observatory of observations, an artwork homage to the voyeurism that perpetuates so much of 21st century ‘online’ culture.

 

FACT Liverpool The New Observatory Art installations.
Images by Gareth Jones

 

The New Observatory is a rich and varied exhibition that calls on its visitors to reflect on, and interact more creatively with, the data that increasingly underpins and permeates our lives. The exhibition opened at FACT, Liverpool on Thursday 22nd of June and runs until October 1st.

 

 


Review of Viva Arte Viva (Venice Biennale 2017)

In a world full of conflicts and shocks,” has the past year become the, arguably, most standardized introduction, preempting, in an almost doomsday manner, articles, political speeches and curatorial statements alike. The world has turned Political (with capital P) and even the most mundane event is quickly made part of current politics, which in turn, seems to occupy a space somewhere between reality TV and satire. One feels the same dreadful fascination as when watching accident videos on YouTube; with eyes hypnotically fixed to the screen as we observe our world digress into an ever-growing state of chaos. A general unease can be traced throughout the world, and even the most apolitical communities are mobilizing at each side of the spectrum, in the desperate search for ways to overcome the immediate and underlying threats-at-hand.

It is within this urgent search for solutions, that this year’s Venice Biennale positions itself. The 57th biannual gathering of today’s most prominent instances of Contemporary Art, offer, under the lead of curator Christine Macel, its own proposal as to how we might address our sometimes-hopeless situation. And, perhaps surprisingly, we are in fact given an answer, which eschews the otherwise often-ambiguous and overly-complicated musings traditionally marking the Art World. Within the manifesto of the biennale, immediately greeting you as you enter the Giardini venue located South of the City, Macel calls for a return to humanism, expressing the need for a new-found believe in the power and agency of humans. And not just any human; particular emphasis is given to the Artist, the persona through which, supposedly, “the world of tomorrow takes shape.”

Structurally, the role of the artist is explored over the course of nine chapters, spanning themes as distinct as ‘earth’, ‘colors’ and ‘time and infinity’. Each, we are told, does not only account for the artist’s practice in isolation, they further set out to investigate how such creative acts resonate and bring about change in the world.

1 and 2: Arts and Books and Joys and Fears

One misses immediately this latter concern within the two first pavilions Artists and Books and Joys and Fears. We are invited into the space and mind of the artist, in what quickly becomes an introvert, almost nostalgic account of the studio, presented here as a place which escapes the neoliberal ideals of progress and productivity. One senses an immediate contradiction, being surrounded by pieces which literally embody the immaterial value so indicative of modern capitalism.

This haunting sense of conflict is occasionally placated, if only because many of the individual pieces go further than the prescribed curation, integrating a sense of criticality in their exploration of the art practice. As in the breathtaking video by Taus Makhacheva, in which a tightrope walker carries paintings between two cliffs, over a lethal fall, seemingly free, while caught in a pointless, repetitive and dangerous act, dictated by guidelines which goes beyond his immediate control. Or in the, now infamous work, by John Walter, Study Art Sign, which appropriates the language of advertisement in simple catch phrases such as “art – for fun or fame,” and in doing so, highlights the entanglement of any artistic act with commercial viability.

 

Taus Machacheva, Tightrope (2015). Videostill. Courtesy of Narrative Projects. with courtesy of narrative projects and the artist. Copyright the artist.

 

3 and 4: Commons and Earth

A 20-minute walk, and the habitual crossing of at least 5 Venetian bridges, brings you to the Arsenal pavilions, and the home of the next 7 chapters. The first two of these, Commons and Earth, are (at least superficially) more successful in exploring the link between the artist and the world at large. The exhibited pieces are centered around the creation of community or situations. They echo in this sense the much-disputed Relational Aesthetics as advocated by Nicolas Bourriaud, which defines contemporary art, as one of “interactive, user-friendly and relational concepts.”(1)

What Bourriaud and the Biennale both seem to overlook, is the inescapable mediation and exclusivity of artistic acts, despite any willingness to advocate inclusivity and openness. Because, let’s face it, none of the presented practices can be equaled to just another social situation – each and single one has been extensively documented, carefully edited and analyzed, to finally make their way into one of the most prestigious temples of contemporary art: The Venice Biennale anno 2017.

This does not make them insignificant, it simply means that one cannot feign apparent neutrality, as the emphasis on ‘anthropological approaches,’ seems to suggest. In fact, the more ‘honest’ pieces are the ones which embrace such mediation, exposing it, rather than hiding it behind a layer of innocent interaction. This is done brilliantly in the video piece of Charles Atlas, A Tyranny of Consciousness – an epic compilation of sunsets, countdowns and disco. The groovy lyrics, ‘You were the one, I blew it, it’s my own damn fault,’ sung by the iconic drag queen Lady Bunny, is given new meaning in the context of environmental, human-provoked disasters.

This is done, while avoiding any moralistic undertones. Rather, the piece dares to reflect the ambiguity which defines the actual human-earth-relation, and through this, overcomes the simplified ‘if we all work together it’ll be fine’ attitude, otherwise permeating the majority of the exhibited work.

 

Pauline Curnier Jardin, Grotta Profunda, les humeurs du gouffre (2011). Courtesy of the Artist.

 

5, 6 and 7: Traditions, Shamanism and Dionysian

Within Traditions, the chapter following, the most successful pieces are similarly those which allow for complexity and move beyond an often much-too-obvious contrasting of the old with the new. One notable example, is the piece by Guan Xiao, which traces the famous statue David by Michelangelo. In bringing together numerous amateur-looking clips capturing this iconic figure, she humorously points to how objects ironically become invisible, through our extensive documentation of them; as hidden behind the connotations and expectations which come to shape the way we perceive our cultural heritage.

On entering the next theme of Shamanism, the first piece which meets the visitor is by Ernesto Neto – a tent-like installation made up of robes, under which guests are offered a place to rest. The otherwise beautiful piece come to look like a feature of Burning Man, with hippie-esque slogans such as ‘with love and gratitude to mother earth’ or ‘’war is not good, gold is life,“ covering the surrounding walls.

What Macel here wants to explore is the artist as magician or healer. While attempts of healing is sympathetic (and needed), such efforts are undermined by, a once again, rather naïve approach. It seems as if the striking similarity to the peace-promoting, but notoriously exclusive, festival is not only aesthetic. There is a failure at acknowledging the difference between giving the (very specific demographic of) biennale goers a place for momentary reflection, and the large-scale healing announced in the curatorial statement.

This pseudo-commitment to seventies politics carries over to the Dionysian Pavilion, which ‘celebrates the female body and its sexuality’. The decision to dedicate a pavilion specifically to female artists and femaleness implicitly tells us that

a) womanhood is still something distinct, which should be explored separately from other identity politics

b) women artists need their own space, neatly separated from the rest of the pavilion (which is, interestingly, dominated by male artists)

We see here not only a return to humanism, but the ugliest of humanisms, one which still insists on highlighting an assumed distinction between manhood and womanhood. Such essentialist undertones are only enforced by the first part of the pavilion which greets you with pastels, vaginas and a propensity for weaving.

While the theme might be questionable, we do, while moving through the pavilion, find some incredibly strong pieces, which insists on addressing the individual in its many nuances and confused nature. This is particularly present in the all-encompassing installation/sound/performance work of artists Pauline Curnier Jardin, Mariechen Danz and Kadar Attia.

 

Guan Xiao, David (2013). Videostill. Courtesy of Antenna Space.

 

6 and 7: Colours and Time and Infinity

This far-reaching journey culminates in the chapters Colours and Time and Infinity which bombastically sets out to explore the way artist come to influence that which exists outside and before a human sphere. Within both pavilions, there is a distinct failure at acknowledging the specificity of the individual works, which, besides from their formal qualities, seems to have little to do with either Colours or Time. Once more the curation, ironically, overshadows, rather than enhances, the complexity of the individual works at stake.

It is symptomatic of the, perhaps biggest, misunderstanding of this year’s biennale: That a return to the artist, or the human more generally, is what will allow us to understand and surpass our current state of crisis. It seems to overlook that our anthropocentric attitude is what originally brought us into trouble. Just as the individual pieces of art are diluted by insisting on the narrow focus of the artist, so does humanism distract us from the complexity of the world in which the human is only one part out of many. It simply seems outdated to return to the human-figure, conceptually broken by critical theory and practically threatened by developments in AI. Rather we need to accept, as many of the brilliant pieces do, a state in which humans are not in control; which allows for spaces of ambiguity and contingency. We do not need a return to humanism. Rather, now is a time to be humble, to look outside of humanity and think beyond that which already was, and never really worked in the first place.

(1) Bourriaud, N. (2010). Relational aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du Reel.

 

 


Community as situation: Prec(ar)ious Collectives in Athens

Walking off the Akadimias district and onto the steps leading up towards the entrance of building number 23, I am greeted by a large hall with high red ceilings. The hall is covered with lavish white and black dot marble, and there is a large staircase acting as a guide to the top floors of the manor-like building. This was the home for the Diplomatic Centre of the Third Reich, designed in 1923 by Vassillis Tsagris, and used until 2011 by the Foreign Press Correspondent Union after the Second World War. Since then it has stood derelict and dusty, but for one week, in parallel to the opening of documenta 14, it played temporary host to the artist-in-residence programme of Palais de Tokyo, alongside with Foundation Fluxum/Flux Laboratory, bearing the name Prec(ar)ious Collectives. Six visual artists in residence at Pavillon Neuflize OBC and eight contemporary Greek choreographers envision and fabricate a hybrid space whereby an experimental notion of a community is executed as a situation rather than as a subject. The visual artists and performers involved congregated together in Athens and on site for a two-week workshop in March in order to produce the works. The title, Prec(ar)ious Collectives, is a linguistic amalgamation of the adjectives ‘precarious’ and ‘precious’, implying the state of the collective that performs together.

 


Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos‘ – Dusk and Dawn Look Just The Same (Riot Tourism)

 

The opening façade echoes with the humming and reverberated sound of Manolis Daskalakis-LemosDusk and Dawn Look Just The Same (Riot Tourism), guiding us towards its installation room. The video installation stands above a mountain of blue powder in a room sectioned off with construction tape. The short sequence of about a minute and a half displays a group of hooded figures, dressed identically. As the soundtrack’s volume begins to escalate, the group progresses from walking to running on the uncannily void and ghostly streets of Athens. A city always bustling with noise is now at its most quiet and pubescent state of the day – dawn. The hooded figures run together and – even though it is in a disordered manner – command your attention and pensiveness until they all reach Omonia Square. The work demonstrates a resistance to a status quo which may be aligned with the political engagement within the city. This is not, however, done in an expected reactionary manner, but instead in a way that promotes uprising through the creation of a meditative state. One cannot help but watch Lemos’ work a couple of times more before leaving it behind and only then noticing the thundering beneath their feet.

 

Taloi HaviniUntitled

 

This historic building has a basement and is the temporary home of Taloi Havini‘s performative work. The large-scale installation occupying four rooms consists of PVC vinyls, seemingly discarded or hung from the low ceiling. These PVC vinyls are lit by dispersed and differently coloured strings of light, some are red, others are purple and others are cream. The performance is underway and its performers dress themselves with the PVC vinyl and the lights and jolt their bodies vigorously to the rhythm of the thundering – sometimes in sync, sometimes not. The dark basement is transformed into a cavern of rhythmic delight alluding to a ritual where its power lies in the gathering of people.

 

Wataru TominagaUntitled

 

As one inspects the garments of Wataru Tominaga and those who wear them, this synthesis of the PVC, the space and the performers as a gathering appears to be a motif. Tominaga created the garments during a preliminary workshop, with great care and appreciation of how he and others were to utilise them during Prec(ar)ious Collectives. Originally presented on mannequins before being worn and performed, the garments boast vivid colours and patterns, some of them containing animalistic features such as feathers or fur. Those who wear Tominaga’s work perform in such a way as to invent a new form of communication between themselves and their observers. They move and conjoin like animals, sometimes hiding underneath the fabric and at times evoking the traditional Japanese ‘snake dance’. The performance, being in a transitional space between the ground floor and the first floor, naturally spreads itself upstairs whereby the performers not only continue to wear the garments in obscure ways, but additionally interact with Yu Ji‘s agave plants and other objects.

 

Yu Ji, Lycabettus Tongue, Oliv Oliv and This is Good For You!

 

Yu Ji‘s work, Lycabettus Tongue, Oliv Oliv and This is Good For You! Are formed by the use of displaced agave plants, half-fragmented found mirrors and lights. The agave plants interlock with various architectural patterns of the building such as stair banisters, whilst the mirrors and round-ball lights are positioned in ways offering various points of view for observation and appreciation of space. The work revitalizes the architecture of the building denoting its historical vitality and the synergy of the encompassing works into a haunting existence rather than an abandoned one. Here, haunting is used not for means of negative connotations but instead as a form of aloof yet introspective sensation, exasperated further with Lola Gonzàlez‘s video installation in the next room.

 


Lola GonzàlezNow my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw

 

Lola Gonzàlez‘s Now my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw begins with its protagonists split into groups and observing the city of Athens from various points at the top of the hills. The groups begins to move, run and hop together towards a direction down the hill, whilst a chorus of droning voices begin to chant and harmonise. As the groups get closer and closer to the city, Gonzalez transforms the image into a complete inversion, like one you may find in negative photography. The chanting becomes louder as the three groups get closer and closer to their meeting point within the city – the exact space where the video is being showed. They are finally shown entering the building and making their way up the stairs to the room where they vocalize in unison until they fade away from our view. Now my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw alludes to an atmosphere in which the power of gathering together evokes a community whose intention is situated between an uncertain balance of peril and strength. It is the same kind of uncertainty that one finds when exploring the top floor of the building only to discover Thomas Teurlai‘s room of machines and looped functions.

 


Thomas TeurlaiScore for bodies and machines

 

On the top floor, there are still the remnants of neglect, rooms empty of anything but the garbage that piled up over the building’s six years of desertion. Thomas Teurlai‘s Score for bodies and machines consists of a room installation of two printers used by the performers to scan different parts of their bodies. These scans are then plastered on the wall whilst the fluorescent lights constantly trickle on and off. The two performers are attempting to archive as much of the movement involved in their choreography as possible. The looped function of copying and the crackle of its repetitive working-noises do not clash with the choreography but instead drive its energy.

Indeed, it may be the encounter between the building, the communal working spirit of the performers and the result of this effort that defines this rejuvenating energy as a fruitful rebirth of the building’s utility.

To find out more, read Chloe Stavrou’s recent interview with Fabien Danesi of Prec(ar)ious Collectives.

 

 


Review of The Gathering Cloud, JR Carpenter

The Gathering Cloud makes slow reading. Let’s start with the title. It trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? Rolls around in the mind like a marble you’ve had since childhood. But there’s something unfamiliar about it, too. ‘The gathering cloud’ evokes a threat – the gathering crowd, perhaps; words haunted by expectation; a riot just about to begin. The gathering cloud sounds material and immaterial at the same time. It could signal rain, or warmth, or happiness for shepherds and fishermen, if only you knew how to read it. Could the ancients interpret celestial data? Can Google analysts do it now?

Every sentence in JR Carpenter’s literary artwork, The Gathering Cloud, is as resonant and expansive as its title. The work is so full of meaning, in fact, that it pushes beyond its own borders. Both a piece of digital literature commissioned by Neon Digital Arts Festival, and a book published by Uniform Press, The Gathering Cloud hovers, as an aesthetic experience, in between (it also exists as a printed A3 zine, distributed in more informal ways).

Its theme is climate change. Or, more precisely, the material effects of technologies euphemistically named ‘cloud computing’ on the health of the planet. Or the systems of knowledge that reveal and obscure our relationships to our world. Or the impossible responsibility of human actions that have a global impact. Or, in Carpenter’s characteristically succinct language in the afterword (‘Modifications on The Gathering Cloud’):

The Gathering Cloud aims to address the environmental impact of so-called ‘cloud’ computing and storage through the overtly oblique strategy of calling attention to the materiality of the clouds in the sky.

Online, The Gathering Cloud appears as a palimpsest of moving images, interacting as a series of animated gifs. To read this work is to move with it. Fragments of text respond to the hover of your mouse. Symbols march across the screen and align in multiple combinations. The experience, in other words, is just like using the internet. There is more here than you will ever be able to discover, and yet the format entices you to keep looking. The world of the browser is both (seemingly) infinite, and controlled by your gaze.

 

 

The first images you see are cloudscapes taken from Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modifications of Clouds (1803). Howard was the first person to devise a popular and scientific naming system for the clouds in the sky. His process was based on natural history classifications, Latin naming principles and the fact that clouds are subject to endless change. His project was such a success that we still use his cloud nomenclature today. But, as Carpenter points out, ‘The language of The Cloud is a barrier.’ Here, she is talking of the language of cloud computing, and how its association with the mutable territory of the sky fails to communicate its dirty, real-world effects. But the language of the clouds is also, always, a reference to Howard’s system and its structuring aim: a grand attempt to explain the (previously) unexplainable, to box in the search for knowledge, to capture what is not still there.

The illustrations that accompanied Howard’s published text were minutely detailed etchings based on his own watercolours. In the book, Carpenter describes the journey of the images as technological as well as scientific artefacts, ‘Translated into cross hatching,’ she writes,

Howard’s studies
lost subtlety, but gained fixity, moving
them toward the diagrammatic scientific.

Carpenter uses these pictures, then, to draw attention to how we understand the world as well as what we (try to) understand. Onscreen, she overlays them with photographs and illustrations of animals – elephants, birds, beetles – which echo metaphors evoked in fragments of her poetic text (‘A cloud the weight of one hundred elephants’, for example, ‘How many more birds/ have been captured and tagged and stored in The Cloud?’). Like the etchings, these animal images bear the time-stamp of specific systems of thought. Some are scientific and precise, for example, and belong, stylistically, to a process of classification: illustration as pedagogic tool.

 

 

In a final conceptual twist, each of these interwoven, visual elements has been ‘materially appropriated’ (Carpenter writes), ‘from publicly accessible cloud storage services.’ These, then, are pictures of weather clouds, and of the ways we think about weather clouds, and of the technological border patrols that control the ways we think. These are images preserved in the hardware of server farms, which means they are also images of the billow of fossil fuels, the gasp of countless lives and minerals, ground into the earth over geological time, as unimaginable in scale as the size of the data stores themselves, or the climate change precipitated by the energy they need.

Tech giants Apple, Amazon and Microsoft
power their twenty-first century clouds with
dirty nineteenth-century coal energy.

And here is the context for Carpenter’s words: lines of hendecasyllabic (eleven-syllable) verse arising inside, on top of or behind the images, borrowing and interpreting found texts from Howard’s nomenclature and contemporary media studies. All of this, finally, is the context for you: the reader/user, dragging your finger across your mouse pad as you enact the dynamic complexity The Gathering Cloud represents:

To miniscule cumulus water droplets
air is an upwelling thermal below them
is as dense as honey is to a pebble
five thousandths of a millimetre across.

As a work of digital literature, then The Gathering Cloud is an extraordinary marriage of concept and content. By which I mean literally extra-ordinary: representing and exceeding the ordinary functions of its source images and texts. While the work is hosted online, however, its rhizomatic affect has less to do with technology than with attention. In an interview in 2010 Carpenter said, ‘I imagine my target audience being people sitting at desks pretending to do other things. Like work, for example. Or writing. Because they are already pretending, their minds are wide open1 .’ The Gathering Cloud is a lucid dream space for people not entirely in charge of their dreams.

*

The most obvious difference between the printed and online versions of The Gathering Cloud is that the book feels primarily textual. Featuring an extended prologue, the book showcases Carpenter’s writing on spacious pages, interspersed with occasional black and white ‘plates’ taken from the digital piece. Simply framed in this way, the power and precision of her words come to the fore. The hendecasyllable format produces a bare, pared down kind of language that sounds natural and restrained, like a conversation with someone who has much more to say. Describing the ancient Roman philosopher Lucretius’ theory of clouds, for example, Carpenter writes:

Nothing can be created out of nothing.

The whole earth exhales a vaporous steam.

Meaning hangs like a lifetime between these lines. The gap between ‘nothing’ and the exhalations of the earth is as big and as small as a breath being held.

Like the skeleton of a bird’s wing, each line in Carpenter’s perfectly crafted, fragile text takes the body of the work in a new direction. And yet, the most thrilling element of the book is not textual, but visual.

 

 

In print, some of the words appear greyed out. Twenty-first century readers recognise this allusion, immediately, as a hyperlink; but of course, there is nothing to click on a printed page. A book is an emblem of past decisions in a way that online experiences pretend not to be. These un-links, then, are uncanny. They promise potential, in the same moment as they fatally disappoint. They wave to the future but they are, literally, pulped emulsions of the past. They call to a space beyond the page, ripe with forbidden fruit, humming with endless desire: more knowledge, more dreaming, more distraction.

An estimated 1.8 trillion
gigabytes of digital information
are created and stored globally each year
by ordinary consumers with no sense
that data is physical and storing it
has a direct impact on the environment.

These un-links represent everything you want and everything you can’t have. They are the spaces for you to dream in and the alarm that stops you dreaming. They are the endless potential of the internet, and the finite resource that will shut it down. In other words, just as the online version of The Gathering Cloud performs the limits and aspirations of older systems of thought – the acid hatch of etchings, the earnest naivety of visual or linguistic classification – so the printed work performs the futile urgency of lives lived online. In each case, the performer on centre stage is the reader/viewer, forced to confront her own ambitions and her impotence as she navigates through mutable worlds.

This, in a nutshell, is our relationship with climate change: it is about us, but bigger than we can comprehend; we are compelled to act, but crave direction; we want to dream, but we are afraid to lose. Crucially, Carpenter asks us to inhabit this relationship, not the climate itself: her work is emotional, not didactic. Instead of explaining climate change, Carpenter explores the extent to which it can possibly be imagined. Then, gently but firmly, she pushes the borders of our thoughts, and gets us to imagine some more.

‘Like a muzzled creature’, Carpenter writes, ‘the cloud strains to be/more than it is.’ The same could be said for her work, of course, and for the people who move through it. In a perfect echo of the systems of weather and data that are its subject, different iterations of the The Gathering Cloud (whether real or imagined) are held, within the reader, as memory, as action, and as technology of thought. The Gathering Cloud could signal rain, or warmth, or happiness for idle browsers,if only you could trace your finger along each acid scratched line. Could the ancients sculpt the hubris of the searching gaze? Can the Google server farms do it now?

By Mary Paterson

Review of The Gathering Cloud, JR Carpenter
http://luckysoap.com/thegatheringcloud/
Uniform Books, 2017

 


Review of PRISONERS OF DISSENT: Locked Up for Exposing Crimes

On January 17th 2017 outgoing American President Barack Obama commuted the 35 year sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. She was to be released on May 17th 2017. The Disruption Network Lab (DNL) Berlin has in the past addressed various forms of disruption techniques. In celebration of Manning’s release, the DNL, which is under the curation of Tatiana Bazzichelli, decided to devote their latest event, Prisoners of Dissent, Locked Up for Exposing Crimes to the voices of dissent of our time.

Chelsea Manning's first portrait photo after her release, 18th of May 2017 by TiChelsea Manning’s first portrait photo after her release, 18th of May 2017 by Tim Travers Hawkins

DNL’s new event-venue is a historic Berlin theater called the Volksbühne (“People’s Theater”) that stands on the Rosa-Luxemburg square. The square’s namesake was a famous anti-war activist and communist revolutionary. Rosa Luxemburg was murdered for her political activism by right-wing paramilitaries in 1919. Thus, the new location draws an historic parallel between dissidents and the often violent ways they are silenced.

While attendees waited for John Kiriakou to present his new book, “Doing Time Like a Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison“, the wood-heavy 1920s-style saloon of the Volksbühne was completely filled with people, leaving not a single chair free. Kiriakou served in the CIA as an analyst and officer for 14.5 years and is now a whistleblower of their practices. He was operating in the Middle East with a focus on counter-terrorism and human rights. In 2007 he brought to light that the CIA was using waterboarding as torture and was subsequently alleged to have disclosed the identities of undercover CIA agents. For this, he was charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act under U.S. Law and had to spend two years in a low-security prison in Pennsylvania.

In 2014, while Kiriakou still served his sentence, his pixelated lego-portrait was among the 176 political prisoners of Ai Weiwei’s artwork  “Trace” that was part of his Alcatraz show in California.

KEYNOTE: DOING TIME LIKE A SPY. ON PRISON SURVIVAL AND THE CIA’S WAR ON TERROR.

John Kiriakou reading from his bookJohn Kiriakou reading from his book

Kiriakou is a man in his early fifties with a likeable charisma. But as one would think of a spy, there are many more dimensions to his character, and he is only hinting at these while reading from his book. Recounting how he made use of his CIA training in daily prison life – living between Mexican drug kingpins, Neo-Nazis and Italian mafia members, he concedes that he can also be a man with nasty manners – if he has to. (Kiriakou points out that the CIA hires individuals with sociopathic tendencies). The audience listens closely while he describes his prison encounters with an enthusiastic storytelling voice. In one anecdote that reminds me of high-school politics he describes the Italian mafia members he made friends with. They made sure that another inmate who pulled Kiriakou’s name through the dirt would be “taken care of”. There is a lightness and sense of humor to Kiriakou’s character. His stories, often punctuated by laughs from the audience, are witty and fascinating. One easily gets lost in listening to them, nearly forgetting the seriousness of the situation he had to bear.

Kiriakou, who had six passports with six different backgrounds and survived two assassination attempts, also mentions the psychological stress and pressure whistleblowers struggle with. As he states that all whistleblowers have their own moments of desperation, I’m reminded of the two suicide attempts Chelsea Manning undertook and the harsh reality of injustice whistleblowers have to experience under their governments.

According to Kiriakou, his motivation came from a patriotic disposition which compelled him to act when the government violated constitutional rights. Snowden states a similar reason, although it is rather interesting that Kiriakou more or less accidentally became a whistleblower, which differentiates him from many others who made a conscious choice of disclosing information in the first place.

The book is definitely worth a read (the copies he brought were sold out by the end of the event) as it gives a unique and very personal insightful view into a CIA officer’s life post-whistleblowing.

In the Q&A session that follows the book presentation, Kiriakou is asked whether in hindsight he would have done anything different. In response he gives two pieces of advice to future whistleblowers: First, get an attorney before you go public with information. Second, don’t trust anyone. Well, somehow what one would expect from a spy?

PANEL

Moderator Annegret Falter from the Whistleblower Netzwerk e.V.Moderator Annegret Falter from the Whistleblower Netzwerk e.V.

The second part of the event consisted of a panel with four guests, that was moderated by Annegret Falter from the Whistleblower Netzwerk e.V.. To introduce Chelsea Manning’s case, a video from the Chelsea Manning Initiative Berlin was shown, which documented their activity from 2011 until now. As a prelude to the panel Annegret Falter read Manning’s public statement, which was released on May 9th by her legal team. She quoted Manning’s words:

“[…] Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts. […]”

The short statement implies the outstandingly harsh conditions Manning, being a transgender woman in an all-male prison, had to live under the past seven years. The exceptionally severe sentence for exposing crimes was commuted by Obama after an outpouring of public support over Manning’s mistreatment in prison and with the prospect of a Trump presidency, many feared for Manning’s life.

Manning was charged under the Espionage Act, which was introduced in 1917 shortly after the U.S. entered the First World War. Many critics see it as a legal relic – an outdated federal law, originally applied to individuals interfering with the U.S. war effort. It is now abused to persecute whistleblowers, among them Daniel Ellsberg, John Kiriakou, and Edward Snowden. Not only is this law incompatible with human rights and civil liberties, but legal scholars argue that it is written so vaguely that a fair trial is impossible in addition to it being unconstitutional

Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers

Former MI5 officer Annie MachonFormer MI5 officer Annie Machon

One of the guests on the panel was the British-born Annie Machon. The former MI5 intelligence officer (The UK’s Secret Service) left the organization in 1996 after the Security Service was involved with a branch of Al-Qaida in a plot against Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The assassination failed and several civilians lost their lives. Consequently she resigned and teamed up with her then-partner David Shayler – an MI5 officer himself – to blow the whistle on the crimes and incompetence of the intelligence community. He was later accused under the 1989 Official Secrets Act, and the three-year exile and two-year legal battle against her former partner publicly became known as the Shayler Affair. Machon wrote a book about the affair, speaking out about both their motivations and the legal injustices the pair endured.

Machon had extensive experience on a professional and personal level, making her an expert on issues like the war on terror, whistleblowing, and the U.K. legislation. Criticizing the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917, Machon pointed out that it was the U.K. that gave the world a notion of such laws with their 1911 Official Secrets Act. While the 1911 law was originally used for spies betraying the country, it was adapted in 1989 to specifically target whistleblowers. New legislations on surveillance, secrecy, and whistleblowing pushed state power even further forward while continuing on a downward spiral. Machon expressed concern that the world would follow the U.K.’s example once again. Clearly she was advocating for a necessity of legal protection for whistleblowers, instead holding criminals to account, not jeopardizing the liberty of the brave individuals who feel compelled to speak out.

On the subject of the psychological issues whistleblowers suffer with, which Kiriakou addressed earlier, she added that the stress also had an effect on Shayler. With a worried voice she said that he now believes himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

#ArtIsNotACrime

Magnus Ag from Freemuse talking about the cash crisis in ZimbabweMagnus Ag from Freemuse talking about the cash crisis in Zimbabwe

Another guest on the panel was the Danish-born human rights activist Magnus Ag, who works for Freemuse, a global organization advocating freedom of artistic expression. Underlining the importance the arts play as a powerful medium of dissent, he quotes Picasso: “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”

Various cases worldwide remind us of artists experiencing oppression, censorship or imprisonment for their work. From the feminist Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot, facing a two-year sentence for protesting Putin, to Ai Weiwei who disappeared for 81 days, detained in a secret prison by communist-led China. Under the hashtag #ArtIsNotACrime, Magnus Ag and Freemuse draw attention to lesser known cases. According to Freemuse’s report, China is among the worst offenders for violating artistic freedom. He introduced the case of five Tibetan musicians who were imprisoned by the Chinese government for simply singing songs that refer to the Dalai Lama and praising Tibetan culture. For charges like “seditiously splitting the state“, as of 2017, all five remain in prison.

Magnus Ag then introduced another guest of the panel, Silvanos Mudzvova who unfortunately was not able to come in person. Mudzvova is an activist, performance artist and a man of outstanding courage. In a video portrait he was shown criticizing the corrupt government of his home country Zimbabwe via the means of art. Dominated by Mugabe since 1980, Zimbabwe suffers an immense financial crisis, besides the recent scandal of $15 billion USD that had been raised from diamond sales and gone missing. Protesting and addressing these issues, Mudzvova staged a public performance in front of the parliament. For his art, he was abducted, tortured, and almost lost his life. Unfortunately, the country is affected by heavy censorship that targets activist, artists, and journalists. As Mudzvova says, he uses art as a catalyst in order to achieve change in the world.

Silvanos Mudzvova performing "Missing Diamonds", 2016. Photo by Winstone AntonioSilvanos Mudzvova performing “Missing Diamonds”, 2016. Photo by Winstone Antonio

One may ask what makes art so powerful that governments fear it, which brings me back to Picasso’s quote. Art can spark a thought, question the status quo, and subtly shed light on the obscure. Art therefore makes us not only realize a truth, but it can start a revolution – something regimes fear. Hence organizations such as Freemuse take an important role in providing a platform to protagonists of dissidence, bringing those cases into the conscious realm or even guiding them into safety.

I found myself deeply appreciative the presence of Mudzvova’s work on the panel as it provided an artistic and non-white perspective on enduring violent oppression from a dictatorship, thus adding to the wide spectrum of activism.

From left to right: John Kiriakou, Magnus Ag, Annie Machon, Annegret FalterFrom left to right: John Kiriakou, Magnus Ag, Annie Machon, Annegret Falter

Obey

The tone of the event urgently suggested the necessity for a global paradigm shift on the perception whistleblowers: from a prosecuted traitor to a celebrated truth-teller. Such a shift would have to be underpinned by legislative means. The suggested solution was to rewrite laws so political dissent can be protected instead of prosecuted. Looking at the legal definition of a whistleblower, it is a person that sheds light on evidence of fraud, abuse or illegality in the public interest. Why would exposing crimes be followed by imprisonment?

One can hope that Chelsea Manning’s release sets an example to nourish new thoughts and laws for future whistleblowers to be better protected. Whistleblowers have always been important players in the modern political landscape within the democratic model. They refuse to conform to the hegemony, have moral principles, and an awareness of the power of information. As such they enable change for the better and for the more transparent which a fortiori reinforces the fundamental values of democracy: civil liberties, freedom of expression, participation, and peacemaking.

Without the courage of whistleblowers and activists who often put themselves in great danger, our world would look very different. This teaches us that one should practice dissent, be it as a whistleblower of injustices, in the field of arts, or in any form of disruption. In the words of Hannah Arendt, who Annegret Falter quoted in her closing of the panel: “Nobody has the right to obey”.

________

Photocredits: Thomas Schmidt

The next Disruption Network Lab event is planned for November, so make sure you follow DNL on their website on and on twitter

Support John Kiriakou‘s legal defence by buying his book here

Consider donating to the Courage Foundation supporting whistleblowers

Find out more about the Chelsea Manning Initiative Berlin and the Chelsea Manning Welcome Home Fund

Find out more about the work of the Whistleblower Netzwerk e.V.

Follow the speakers on twitter:

@JohnKiriakou
@AnnieMachon
@AgMagnus
@SilvanosVhitori

Review on PRISONERS OF DISSENT: Locked Up for Exposing Crimes, Berlin 2017. By Berit Gwendolyn Gilma


Art Takes on Ethics

Trust Me, I’m an Artist is an exhibition organized in cooperation with the Waag Society at Zone2Source’s Het Glazen Huis in Amstelpark, in the outskirts of Amsterdam. It is a culmination of a Creative Europe-funded project, aiming to explore ethical complexities of artistic engagements with emerging (bio)technologies and medicine. The explorations in the exhibition have taken place through a play on the format of ‘the ethics committee’. In university contexts, particularly within medicine and the natural sciences, researchers need to submit their proposals to ethics committees to check whether their proposed projects comply with the relevant ethical guidelines, and to point to any issues the researchers hadn’t thought of. In the last couple of decades, as artists have increasingly taken part in institutional settings, even becoming residents in scientific labs, they too have sometimes been faced with these committees. The Trust Me, I’m an Artist project has included a handful of artists’ proposals to ethics committees, performed in front of an audience. Some of the exhibited pieces are documentation from those events, and are aesthetically somewhat unfulfilled. As thought-provocations, however, they still work.

Martin O'Brien, Tast of Flesh - Bite Me I'm Yours, 2015Martin O’Brien, Taste of Flesh – Bite Me I’m Yours, 2015

Het Glazen Huis is, indeed, made mostly from glass, which creates the effect that the park outside enters into the exhibition room. For this exhibition it seems fitting, as the artworks deal, in various ways, with living things. While one of the pieces, Špela Petrič‘s Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis, focuses directly on plants (more on that later), the only direct conversation with the green exterior is a pile of soil, generously run through with green specks of glitter, crowned by a striking headpiece topped with tall green feathers, which seems to mirror a fern plant of about the same height on the other side of the glass wall. The soil/hat construct is paired with a strange frock, constructed from old labcoats, but with frills and a cut resembling a 17th century garment, and far from white. The front and back of the coat is decked with transparent orbs, resembling snow globes. Each of them contains a different set of microbes, placed there through various acts of swabbing the environment or asking artist colleagues for donations in the form of mucus.

The frock and the soil concoction are the remnants of a performance by Jennifer Willet and Kira O’Reilly, which took place at the Waag Society the night before the exhibition opening. Willet was wearing the repurposed labcoats, O’Reilly the green headgear and a sparkling green dress inspired by drag and camp aesthetics. For much of the three-hour event, they talked about trust: what does it mean to trust? Do these artists trust themselves? O’Reilly stated that she is not sure she even values trust that much. They shared stories about their previous work, toasted with champagne, and interspersed their conversation, gradually, with elements of a “project proposal”.

O’Reilly, with Willet’s help, coated her arms in whisked eggs, as a base for green glitter. She showed examples of previous performances she had done using such glitter, often in the nude and sometimes involving fertilized chicken eggs. An hour into the performance, Willet revealed that her garment had been buried in soil at a conference, where people were encouraged to do stuff to the soil over the week: composting, urinating, etc, which explained the coat’s uneven, brownish tint. Only towards the end of the performance did she tell us that the globes were repurposed bowls made into “petri dishes”, filled with agar and ready to serve as a growth medium for various microorganisms. She then swabbed the jacket, swiping it onto the agar in one of the bowls, then swabbed O’Reilly’s nose. Willet proposes to wear another coat in the laboratory for a year, exposing it to various microorganisms, and to also wear it at home around her twin daughters, reflecting on how we large mammals serve in any case as carriers for all sorts of microbes. The ethics committee considered this a risky and unlikely aspiration, and did not think she would be allowed to go through with it. They did, however, encourage her to consult with them in developing her idea. A similar response was given to O’Reilly, who wants to cover a pine tree in Finland in glitter, reflecting on how her use of glitter is contributing to plastic pollution, and to work with a dead farmed salmon that she would get directly from a fish farm in Norway. At the end of the performance, O’Reilly unfolded a plastic sheet, spread three bags of soil onto the plastic, poured a bowl of glitter on top, and mixed it with her hands in a languid, beautiful way. She fetched a gutted whole salmon from a fridge, sprinkling glitter on it as well. Both of them, thus, did part of what they are proposing to do for their project already during the “ethics consultation”, challenging the format. But they reflected at the close that the opportunity to think extensively on the ethics of their ideas was rewarding and important.

Martin O’Brien‘s Taste of Flesh – Bite Me I’m Yours is also documentation of a performance, which he did in London at Space c/o the White Building, in April 2015. His performance was an exploration of endurance, pain, and the overstepping of intimate boundaries. Working with his own body, O’Brien seems to have embraced the facts of living with a genetic disorder, Cystic Fibrosis, to the full. The disease causes him to produce a lot of mucus, and be short of breath.

Over a number of hours, he did a series of actions; chaining himself, biting people, being bitten, coughing up mucus, crawling around in a way that was inspired by the zombie as metaphor for being sick. He played with the fear that interaction will result in contagion, and with S&M paraphernalia and the limits between pain and pleasure. In the exhibition we see the performance on a projection taking up a whole wall, and five small, parallel video screens showing different parts of the performance. Remnants of the paraphernalia he used are exhibited on a plinth. The films in part convey the intensity and some-time repulsion that the performance must have inspired.

Špela Petrič, Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis, 2015Špela Petrič, Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis, 2015

Petrič’s work Skotopoiesis is less explicit, and perhaps less provocative to most. In the exhibition, we see a photograph of a field of cress, with the outline of a human shadow making the center cress paler than the rest. By standing in front of the field, preventing the light from falling onto the same spot for 19 hours a day, three days on end, she created a visible imprint of her body, through cress that grew to be longer and paler than the neighboring plants that got direct sunlight.

Plants do not follow same rules of agency as animals. We cannot easily relate to them, although some, such as trees, seem to have more presence and individuality. Grass, on the other hand, is impossible to think of as single entity. Often, as part of the ethics procedure, researchers are asked if they can use plants rather than animals, as current perceptions of what is ethical tend to exclude plants from our ethical consideration. Petrič wanted to challenge the committee with something anti-spectacular, where it would be difficult to see ethical issues. Through existing with plants, trying to conform to their timescale and mode of existence, but also modifying them through her very presence, she entered into a pensive engagement not just with the plants themselves, but with the ethics of our coexistence with them. This seems quite a timely, as recent studies show plants to have more sensations, reactions, and even abilities of communication, than has previously been thought. Given this, our disregard for the life of plants may be seen as a great ethical challenge.

Artist Gina Czarnecki and scientist John Hunt, in the piece Heirloom, created masks in the shape of Czarnecki’s two daughters’ faces, grown from their skin cells over glass casts. This, too, is shown on several video screens, as documentation of the actual installation of the bioreactors in which the masks were grown. The artist wanted to preserve her daughters’ youthful likenesses, and the idea led to the development of a new, simple set-up for three-dimensional cell growth. One of the tricky ethical issues here is that of the ownership of a child’s cells. As the girls’ parent, Czarnecki could herself consent to using their cells in this way. They were happy to participate at the time, but does this kind of artistic, experimental use constitute “informed consent”? At the opening, Czarnecki observed that her daughters, moving into their mid-teens in the three or so years since their skin samples were taken, had become less comfortable with being on display in this way.

The videos show fascinating glimpses of the process, footage of the masks inside the bioreactors, flashing shots of the daughters’ faces, and narrations by the key actors. At one point in the video, Hunt describes how he and two of his fellow researchers both came into the lab because they were worried about the skin cells being contaminated. Without having anything to do there, they sat together and watched over them. A rare admittance of the personal bonds that can be formed with cell cultures, and reasons for action that are far from the rational.

 

Howard Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2017. Photo: Anna DumitriuHoward Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2017

Howard Boland‘s Cellular Propeller is represented in the exhibition through a few sculptural elements and photos. The project started as part of his long-time engagement with synthetic biology, and his ambition was to work with living, moving cells, attached to inorganic structures, to play with the old idea that “If it moves, it is alive”. Originally he hoped to use heart cells from new-born rats, but this proved difficult. Instead, he ended up using his own sperm cells, which are much more easily available, and share the ability to move. He created coin-sized, wheel-shaped plastic scaffolds that the sperm cells can ideally attach to, serving as “propellers” to literally,move the human cells, although this does not happen in a predictable way. In the exhibition, we saw reproduced the little plastic scaffolds, but not with the cells “in action”.

With the change from heart cells to sperm, the connotations of the piece changed slightly; while the question of “what is living” remains, reproduction, birth and movement still being central to the piece, the use of sperm also brings in ideas about pleasure and the surplus production of cells through recreational sex. Through repurposing sperm cells for the mechanical task of moving these wheels, Boland shifts the discussion towards life without the basic “meaning” that reproduction conveys.

“Controlled Commodity” by Anna Dumitriu features a dress from 1941, also exhibited on a headless mannequin, and mended with patches containing gene-edited E. coli bacteria. An example of wartime austerity, the dress is CC41 – controlled commodity 41. Dumitriu stresses the fact that 1941 was the first year that penicillin was used, and unlike clothing, this was not a controlled commodity. Overuse of antibiotics over many years has led to the current crisis, with more and more bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotics we commonly use.

Anna Dumitriu, Controlled Commodity, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.Anna Dumitriu, Controlled Commodity, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist

Through participation in the Future and Emerging Art and Technology program, Dumitriu was an artist in residence in an Israeli lab, and worked with the much-hyped, much-discussed CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The use of CRISPR for gene editing is currently being presented as a much easier way to insert or remove genetic information. In this case, Dumitriu used it to remove a gene for antibiotics resistance.

When she had to create a repair fragment to patch the bacteria back together, she used the phrase ‘make do and mend’, an explicit reference to WWII history. Dumitriu grew the CRISPRed bacteria on silk, sterilized them, and sewed the E. coli patches onto the (somewhat moth-eaten) dress. In addition to the dress, she is displaying the plasmid created using CRISPR in a little glass vase, only covered with aluminum foil – and without having asked permission. In an identical glass vessel, little paper circles contain all the antibiotics in commercial use.

The piece is rich, complex, and daring. In editing the genome of E. coli bacteria to remove an ampicillin antibiotic resistance gene, Dumitriu is proposing a potential solution to the pervasive problem of antibiotics resistance, which might also be ethically problematic: such suggested solutions being “around the corner” might lead to less focus on discovering new antibiotics, or the sense that continued over-use can be maintained. Also, her insistence on exhibiting plasmids in the gallery is not high-risk (as far as we know, plasmids need some sort of shock effect to be taken up by bacteria), but it does seem a somewhat unnecessary exposure. Dumitriu’s CRISPR work will be discussed in a Trust Me… event at the British Science Festival in Brighton in September.

Open Care – Inheritance, by Erich Berger and Mari Keto, imagines a personal responsibility for nuclear waste, in the form of radioactive family jewellery that goes from generation to generation, in the hope that you might one day wear it. The jewellery is kept in a radiation-proof container, and for each generation that takes over its care, it can be tested to see if the radioactivity has gone down to a safe level, so that “the jewellery can finally be brought into use and fulfill its promise of wealth and identity or if it has to be stored away until the next generation” (quote from the exhibition catalogue). The jewellery box and low-tech tools to check its radioactivity are exhibited behind a glass wall. This thought experiment suggests that the unimaginably long timespans that it takes for radioactivity to subsist can be broken down into spans of time that we can relate to. The personal nature of such family jewellery creates an emotional narrative of very personal responsibility for the waste we produce.

The artistic license seems to be to challenge, stretch, and provoke, and indeed, the artworks in this exhibition both challenge and stretch our views on what responsibility means. So, can we trust what these artists are up to? One never knows, but through engaging in these extended conversations with the public and hand-picked committees, they do give us new grounds for reflection on ethics, trust, and responsibility in science, in society at large, and in art.

Note: I saw this exhibition during the opening, and some elements were still not up and running.


A Sneak Peek into a Hidden Place

The Aksioma Project Space hosting Iza Pavlina’s “Rule 34“ exhibition is an immaculate visual realisation of a lifestyle minimalist’s wet dream. There are two large video projections covering the surfaces of opposite walls in the white cube. Another set of four monitors is tilted on the floor, beaming at you towards the center of the space. All projections show the same composition of a young woman, the artist herself, on a clear background, overwhelmingly beautiful and innocent, mildly disinterested, bare-shouldered, engaged in playing repetitively with a different toy in each video. The third wall is neatly adorned with a set of six C-print photos with the same flawless composition. The last wall presents outlined drawings of yet the same composition, stamped with a QRcode of pages like Pornhub, xHamster, and Xvideos. Each QRcode leads to the artist’s profile on different social media sites, where the same set of perfect videos are presented. Perhaps you have no idea what these sites are, but if you are one of a quarter of internet users who frequent online porn sites, the chances are that your own profiles on these sites are your deeply buried dirty secret.

Much like any other of your favorite social media sites, porn sites include a public profile for the gaze of all your friends and a private space for personal chats. How Web 2.0 has changed the meaning of concepts such as friends, public and private space is beside the point; What is meaningful for the exhibition is that Pavlina lets you take a sneak peek into private messages she has had with her friends, or rather fans, on these sites. For this private viewing, she adopted an exhibition format called “offline art”, which was initially developed by German artist Aram Bartholl. Essentially, every video or photo is connected to a local Wi-Fi router, which lets you hub into a specific private chat. Here is where the titillation, arousal, curiosity, surprise, even shock or disgust emerge – here, in this secret hidden space, where the boundaries of mainstream porn as we know it are challenged and explored.

Somehow, Pavlina’s interest in sexuality, pornography, and paraphilias is well summarized in the title itself. The rules of behaviour for being on the internet were posted on meme-sharing sites like 4chan.org sometime back in 2004. Rule 34 says: “There is porn of it, no exceptions.” The following two rules clarify the statement. Rule 35 says “If no porn is found of it, it will be made,” and Rule 36: “There will always be more fucked up shit than what you just saw.” [Paasonen, 2011] These three rules alone show that the diversity of pornographic exploration has exploded with the easy accessibility and seeming anonymity of online identities. Social taboos have been lost somewhere in the translation of the meaning of the virtual i.e digital. For a time, it was believed online porn had little effect on the corporeal, and the social taboo and guilt associated with it seemed not to be applicable. But it has turned out that fiddling with oneself on the internet is just as carnal. As a young artist in her 20s, Pavlina started exploring the subject a few years ago with her half-hour video piece “Talk to Strangers!” (2014). This piece was edited from online video chats, during which she pretended to be a 14-year-old girl. With this piece, she was trying to “highlight and expose in an original and unobtrusive way the global issue of disorders of sexual preference and the incidence of paedophilia on the World Wide Web”. However, in the “Rule 34” exhibition, she takes a turn from a legal and moralistic point of view towards a more uncharted and ambivalent pornographic landscape. Interestingly enough, the kink of mainstream heteronormative sexuality is a topic which really appeals to artists and researchers alike. There is a wide acceptance and interest for alternative porn in the arts, whether it is vintage, humorous or LGBT, while the mainstream is often disregarded as tacky, normative or even filthy. The first set of genres is easy to read since they obviously produce a set of meanings in the field of cultural critique. The mainstream, however, bemuses.

Iza Pavlina, “Rule 34” – Trichophilia, drawing, 2017Iza Pavlina, “Rule 34” – Trichophilia, drawing, 2017

Now it is time to explore the toys Iza Pavlina is playing with. For her videos, she has chosen a set of less known and quite surprising paraphilias, which produce an intense sexual arousal for specific individuals. The activities may seem usual or even quite ridiculous to another individual who is turned on by something completely different. In the process of making “Rule 34”, she has uploaded the videos to her profile on various pornographic social media sites with the name of a specific paraphilia and a teasing description such as “Agalmatophilia: Virgin turns into a fuck robot”, “Balloon fetishism: Young looner babe blowing her first balloon”, “Exophilia: Nasty girl playing with balls”, “Pony play: Wild pony getting trained”, “Plushophilia: Hot naked blonde cuddling her teddy bear”, “Trichophilia: Submissive bitch gets her hair chopped off”. In these descriptions, there are a number of clichéd identifications such as blondeness, paleness, youthfulness and submissiveness, which suggests a blunt disregard for the question of race and other identities, yet she somehow evades the need for the interpretation of her actions. The videos are visceral and saturated with body and presence, yet surprisingly unintrusive. Her action is not trying to identify with the fetish nor to imitate the fantasy, but to become it. And she does so with a laboratory accuracy. The work seems to treat corporeality in Elizabeth Grosz’s terms, proposing the presence of the body without the need to reduce it to semiotic inscriptions or the assertion of meanings.

Even though the artist creates a set of online identities, she seems not to be interested in the question of mimicry or fake personalities. On the contrary, she becomes and plays with these identities, interacting with her friends or rather fans, who she teases, tempts, and attracts. She is interested in the performativity of the body, and its capability to speak for itself. As Susan Paasonen would put it, the interest lies in “resonance”, which equally “encompasses the emotional and cognitive as well as the sensory and affective” (Paasonen, 2011, 27), producing intensity, appeal, and force. “Rule 34” does not produce any metaphorical meaning, and perhaps this novelty within the storytelling of a young generation becomes most obvious if we try and compare it to an older example of paraphilia in arts. For example, we may associate the injury fetishism, which Pavlina also explores, with J.G. Ballard‘s book “Crash” and its film translation by David Cronenberg. Ballard himself explained it as a result of “the marriage of reason and nightmare, which has dominated the 20th century with its sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy”; It is a “the merging of sex and paranoia” and “the death of affect”.

Iza Pavlina, “Rule 34” – Pony Play, video still, 2017
Iza Pavlina, “Rule 34” – Pony Play, video still, 2017

Pavlina however, finds no fear in the omnipresence of technology and the visceral connection between the human body and technological tools. She seems to value only the “resonance” of technology, regardless of what cultural conditions it is produced in. She is liberating the list of fetishes and fantasies from the history of treating sexuality in clinical terms, since the normality of desire has been culturally produced and theoretically reduced to a psychoanalytic understanding of suppressed memories, phobias and philias. There is absolutely nothing psychoanalytical about “Rule 34”. The artist goes against the understanding of paraphilias as objects of perversions. She plays and enjoys the outcome, communicates with fans and haters, and even lets the gallery visitor to sneak peek into private messages with particularly kinky content. One of these is “Cum Tribute” – the act of cumming on a printed picture, monitor or pad, which has so often been contributed to her gorgeousness, that she received in private messages for every video she uploaded. By documenting such actions, she has archived a behavioural phenomenon that is completely off the chart from conventional archives, and in her playful exploration of mainstream porn, she seems to reassure: there is nothing normative about any sexuality and that’s just fine.

Iza Pavlina, “Rule 34”, exhibition view, 2017
Iza Pavlina, “Rule 34”, exhibition view, 2017

References:

Paasonen, Susan, “Carnal Resonance. Affect and Online Pornography”, 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

J. G. Ballard, “Some words about Crash!. Introduction to the French Edition of Crash!”, Magazine Litteraire No. 87, April 1974


Work less, play more: can humans benefit from robots in the workplace?

Economic theory states that technological change comes in waves: one innovation rapidly triggers another, launching the disruptions from which new industries, workplaces and jobs are born. Steam power set in motion the industrial revolution, and likewise since the 1990s a torrent of digital and software developments have transformed industries and our working lives. But the revolutionary very quickly becomes humdrum, and once-radical and efficient innovations like the telephone, email, smartphones and Skype, become part of everyday, even mundane experience. Despite all the time-saving devices we have successfully integrated into our lives, there is a collective anxiety about the current wave of technological change and what more the future holds. Mainstream dystopian visions of our relationship with technology abound, but are we in fact engaged in a group act of cognitive dissonance: using our smartphones to read and worry about robots taking over our jobs, whilst wishing for a shorter work week and more time for creative pursuits?

The British Academy recently brought together a panel of experts in robotics, economics, retail and sociology to talk about how technology is reshaping our working lives. This review summarises some of their thoughts on the situation now, and what developments lie ahead. Watch the full debate here.

Helen Dickinson OBE reported on the British Retail Consortium’s project, Retail 2020, a practical example of how technology is changing consumer behavior and affecting firms in her industry. The UK’s retail sector has on the one hand embraced technology and created a success story. The UK has the highest ecommerce spend per head in the developed world, with c15% of transactions taking place online, and at 3.0m employees it is also the largest private sector employer in the UK. However, beneath this, internet price comparison ushered in fierce price competition. Retailers are using technology to improve manufacturing and logistic efficiencies to control costs and offset shrinking profit margins. Physical stores are closing as sales migrate online. The BRC predicts a net 900,000 jobs will be lost by 2025. Nor will the expected impact be even: deprived regions are more reliant on retail employers and so will be more affected by job losses. Likewise, the most vulnerable, with less education or skills and looking for work in their local area, will be the hardest hit.

Prof Judy Wajcman resisted the urge to overly rejoice or despair at technological developments. For her, this revolution is not so different to the waves which have come before. It is impossible to predict what new needs, wants, skills and jobs will be created by technological advances. Undoubtedly some jobs will be eliminated, others changed, and some created. However, we can certainly think beyond the immediate like-for-like: a washing machine saves labour, but it has also changed our cultural sense of what it means to be clean. Critically, we should stop thinking of technology as any kind of neutral, inevitable, unstoppable force. All technology is manmade and political, reflecting the values, biases and cultures of those creating it. As Wajcman said, ‘if we can put a man on the moon, why are women still doing so much washing?’ In other words, female subjugation to domestic labour could have been eliminated by technology, but persistent cultural norms have prevented this from happening.

Robot suits on astronauts in a laundrettecc by 2.0 Adrian Scottow, via Flickr

Dr Sabine Hauert is a self-professed technological optimist. For her technology has the potential to make us safer and empower us, for example by reducing road accidents, or allowing those who cannot currently drive to do so. Hauert sees a future not where robots completely replace humans, but where collaborative robots work alongside them to help with specific tasks. The crucial issue for dealing with this future lies in communication and education about new technologies, since the general public, mainly informed by news and cultural media, is ill-served by a steady drip of negative stories about our future with robots.

The short film Humans Need not Apply is one such alarming production, chiming with Dr Daniel Susskind’s altogether more gloomy view of the longer term effects of technological advances on the workforce. To date, manufacturing jobs have been those most affected by automation, but traditionally white collar jobs also contain many repetitive tasks and activities (just ask the employee drumming their fingers on the photocopier). Computing advances mean that many more of these are now in scope for automation, such as the Japanese insurer replacing some underwriters with artificial intelligence. For Susskind, it is not certain that workers will continue to benefit from increased efficiencies as technology advances. A human uses a satnav provided s/he is still needed to drive, but the same satnav could just as easily interface with a self-driving car, eliminating the need for any kind of human-machine interaction. Calling to mind the wholesale changes to UK heavy industry in the 1980s, any redeployment of labour will present huge challenges, and what work eventually remains may not be enough to keep large populations in well paid, stable employment.

Truck with sign saying 'our most precious asset is here'cc by 2.0 Mike Mozart, via Flickr

Can humans benefit from robots in the workplace?The panel agreed that technological change will continue apace with wide reaching ramifications for our workplaces and our wider societies, but that it is our human qualities that will give us an advantage over machines. Perhaps this is the most pressing notion: we urgently need to recalculate the value we place on tasks within society. Work where social skills, communciation, empathy, and personal interaction are prioritised (like teaching or nursing) may develop a value above that which is rewarded today.

If we smell such change coming, it is no wonder we are anxious. The panellists differed on the ability of our society to absorb and adapt to coming technological change, and the distribution of any net benefit or loss. So, is the only option to accept the inevitable and brace for the tsunami to hit? Well, no. We need to realise that ‘technology’ is not one vast, distant wave on the horizon, but a series of smaller ripples already lapping higher around our ankles. Returning to Wajcman’s point, all technologies are created by people. If innovation has a cultural dimension, it can be influenced, so we must take heart and believe in our ability to effect change.

The further we can work to democratise and widen the pool of creative engineers, developers, artists, designers and critical thinkers contributing to the development of technologies, the broader the spectrum of resulting applications and consequent benefits to society as a whole. We can be conscious in our choices as consumers as we adopt new products and services into our lives, and challenge the new social norms emerging around work and life as technology allows us to blur the boundaries between them. And finally, we need to consider who profits, and who doesn’t, from new business models. We should lobby government to be deliberate in designing policy that looks to these future developments, and their likely unequal impacts across regions, industries and populations, to ensure that existing social inequalities are not entrenched or magnified. Hopefully the creative community can help steer this wave in the right direction, painting a vivid picture of our possible futures, to persuade the powerful to act in the interests of the greater good.

Speakers:

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium
Dr Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Robotics, University of Bristol
Dr Daniel Susskind, Fellow in Economics, University of Oxford and co-author of The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts (OUP, 2015)
Professor Judy Wajcman FBA, Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology, LSE and author Pressed for time: The acceleration of life in digital capitalism (Chicago, 2015)

Chair:

Timandra Harkness, Journalist and author, Big Data: Does size matter? (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016)
Katharine Dwyer is an artist who considers the modern corporate workplace in her practice.


In Defence of Serendipity: For a Radical Politics of Innovation – by Sebastian Olma

What is serendipity? Notoriously difficult to translate1, it is described as a trivial encounter, a pleasing coincidence, or a moment or encounter that was unplanned and occurred without intentionally looking for it. For Olma there appears to be much more at stake than a charming French accident. In the book ‘In Defence of Serendipity: For a Radical Politics of Innovation’ (2016), Olma gallops through the oppressive apparatus of the creative industries and the tireless illusion of innovation that captivates the hearts of young creatives and designers all over Europe, before finally resting on a call to arms for a radical politics of innovation that encompasses creativity, citizenship and social emancipation.

Continue reading…


What is truly alien? – A review of alien matter, curated by Inke Arns

Within the context of transmediale’s thirty-year anniversary, Inke Arns curates an exhibition titled alien matter. Housed in Haus der Kulturen der Welt, alien matter is a stand-alone product that has been worked on for more than a year, featuring thirty artists from Berlin and beyond. In the introductory text, Arns utilises her background in literature and borrows a quote from J.G. Ballard, an English novelist associated with New Wave science fiction and post apocalyptic stories. The quote reads:

The only truly alien planet is Earth. – J.G. Ballard in his essay Which Way to Inner Space?

Ballard was redefining the notion of space as ‘outer space’, seemingly beyond the Earth, and ‘inner space’ as the matter constituting the planet we live on. For him, the idea of outer space is irrelevant if we do not fully understand the components of our inner space, claiming, ‘It is inner space, not outer, that needs to be explored’. The ever increasing and accelerating modes of infrastructural and therefore environmental change caused by humans on our Earth is immense. Arns searches for the ways by which this form of change has contributed to the making of alien matter on a planet we consider secure, familiar and essentially, our home. In the age where technological advancements are so severe that machines are taking over human labour, singularity is a predominant theme whilst the human condition is reaching a deadlock in more ways than we can predict. The works shown in alien matter respond to this deadlock by shedding their status as mere objects of utility and evolve into autonomous agents, thus posing the question, ‘where does agency lie?’

Entering the space possessing alien matter, one is immediately confronted with a giant wall – not one like Trump’s, but instead a structure made out of approximately 20,000 obsolescent VHS tapes on wooden shelves. It is Joep van Liefland’s Video Palace #44, hollowed inside with a green glow coming from within at its entry point. The audience has the opportunity to enter the palace and be encapsulated within its plastic and green fluorescent walls, reminiscent perhaps of old video rental stores with an added touch of neon. The massive sculpture acts as an archaeological monument. It highlights one of Arns’ allocated subcategories encompassing alien matter, (The Outdateness of) Plastic(s); the rest are as follows: (The Outdatedness of) Artificial Intelligence, (The Outdatedness of) Infastructure and (The Outdatedness of) Internet(s) of Things.

Part of Plastic(s) is Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke’s project titled The 3D Additivist Cookbook, initially making its conceptual debut at last year’s transmediale festival. In collaboration with Ami Drach, Dov Ganchrow, Joey Holder and Kuang-Yi Ku, the Cookbook examines 3D printing as possessing innovative capabilities to further the functions of human activities in a post-human age. The 3D printer is no longer just an object for realising speculative ideas, but instead is manifested as a means of creating items that may initially (and currently) be considered alien for human utility. Kuang-Yi Ku’s contribution, The Fellatio Modification Project, for example, applies biological techniques of dentistry through 3D printing in order to enhance sexual pleasure. Through the 3D Additivist Cookbook, plastic is transformed into a material with infinite possibilities, in which may also be considered as alien because of their human unfamiliarity.

Alien and unfamiliarity is also prevalent when noticing the approach by which the works are laid out and lit throughout the exhibition. Without taking Video Palace #44 into consideration, the exhibiting space is void of walls and rooms. Instead, what we witness are erect structures, or tripods, clasping screens and lights. These architectural constructions are, as Arns points out in the interview we conducted, reminiscent of the extraterrestrial tripods invading the Earth in H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds; initially illustrated by Warwick Goble in 1898. The perception of alien matter is enriched through this witty application of these technical requirements as audiences wander amongst unknown fabrications.

Amidst and through these alien structures, screens become manifestations for expressive AIs. Pinar Yoldas’ Artificial Intelligence for Governance, the Kitty AI envisages the world in the near future, 2039. Now, in the year 2017, Kitty AI appears to the viewer as a slightly humorous political statement, however, much of what Kitty is saying may not be far from speculation. Kitty AI appears in the form of rudimentary and aged video graphics of a cute kitten, possibly to not alarm humans with its words. It speaks against paralysed politicians, extrapolates on overloaded infrastructures of human settlement, the on-going refugee crisis still happening in 2039 but to larger dimensions and… love.

 

The Kitty AI is ‘running our lives, controlling all the systems it learns for us’, providing us with a politician-free zone and states that it ‘can love up to three million people at the time’ and that it ‘cares and cares about you’. Kitty AI has evolved and possesses the capacity to fulfil our most base desires and needs – solutions to problems in which human are intrinsically the cause of. Kitty AI  is a perfect example when taking into consideration Paul Virilio’s theory in his book A Landscape of Events, stating:

And so we went from the metempsychosis of the evolutionary monkey to the embodiment of a human mind in an android; why not move on after that to those evolving machines whose rituals could be jolted into action by their own energy potential. ­– Paul Virilio in his book A Landscape of Events

Virilio doesn’t necessarily condemn the evolution of AIs; humans had the equal opportunity to progress throughout the years. Instead his concerns rise from worries that this evolution is unpredictably diminishing human agency. The starting stage for this loss of agency would be the fabrication of algorithms having the ability to speculate possible scenarios or futures. Such is the work of Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska titled Predictive Art Bot. Almost nonsensical and increasingly witty, the Predictive Art Robot borrows headlines from global market developments, purchasing behaviour, phrases from websites containing articles about digital art and hacktivism, and sometimes even crimes to create its own hypothetical, yet conceivable, storyboards. The interchange of concepts rangings from economics, to ecologies, to art, transhumanism and even medicine, pertain subjects like ‘tactical self-driving cars’ and ‘radical pranks’ for disruption and ‘political drones’ and even ‘hardcore websites perverting the female entity’.

To a certain degree, both Kitty AI and Art Predictive Bot could be seen as radical statements regarding the future of human agency, particularly in politics. There is always an underline danger regarding fading human agency and its importance for both these works and imagined scenarios – particularly when taking into consideration Sascha Pohflepp’s Recursion.

Recursion, acted by Erika Ostrander,is an attempt by an AI to speak about human ideas coming from Wikipedia, songs by The Beatles and Joni Mitchell, and even philosophy by Hegel, regarding ‘self-consciousness’, ‘sexual consciousness’, the ‘good form of the economy’, and ‘the reality of social contract’. Ostrander’s performance of the piece is almost uncanny to how we might expect AIs to understand and read through language regarding these subjects. The AI has been programmed to compose a text from these readings starting with the word ‘human’ – the result is a computer which passes a Turing test, almost mimetic of what in its own eyes is considered an ‘other’ in which we can understand that simulacra gains dialectal power as the slippage becomes mutual. Simultaneously, these words are performed by a seemingly human entity, posing the question of have we been aliens within all along without self-conscious awareness?

Throughout alien matter it becomes gradually apparent that the reason why AIs are problematic to agency is because of their ability to imitate or even be connected to a natural entity. In Ignas Krunglevičius’ video, Hard Body Trade, we are encapsulated by panoramic landscapes of mountains complimented by soothing chords and a dynamic sub-bass as a soundtrack. The AI speaks over it ‘we are sending you a message in real time’ for us to be afraid, as they are ‘the brand new’ and ‘wear masks just like you’ implying they now emulate human personas. The time-lapse continues and the AI echoes, ‘we are replacing things with math while your ideas and building in your body like fat’ – are humans reaching a point of finitude in a landscape whereby everything moves much faster than ourselves?

Arn’s potential resolution might be to foster environments of participation and understanding, as with the inclusion of Johannes Paul Raether’s Protektor.x.x. 5.5.5.1.pcp. Raether’s project is a participatory narrative following the daily structures of the WorldWideWitches and tells the story of an Apple Store ‘infiltration’ which took place on the 9th of July 2016 in Berlin. The performance itself was part of the Cycle Music and Art Festival and was falsely depicted by the media as scandalous; the Berliner Post called it ‘outrageous’. The performance featured Raether, wearing alien attire walking into the Store and allowing gallium to swim on the table. Gallium, as a substance is completely harmless substances to human beings, but if it touches aluminium the gallium liquid metal can completely dissolve the aluminium.

The installation is a means of communicating not only the narrative of the World Wide Witches, but to uncover the fixation that humans have with material metal objects such as iPhones. The installation itself is interactive and quite often engaged a big crowd around it, all curious to see what it was. It was placed on a table covered in a imitated form of gallium spread over cracked screens and pipes which held audio ports for the audience to listen to the WorldWideWitches story. Raether’s work, much like the exhibition as a whole, is immersive, engaging and participatory.

The exhibition precisely depicts alien matter in all its various and potential manifestations. The space, with all its constant flooding of sounds, echoes and reverbations, simulates an environment whereby the works foster intimacy not only with transmediale, but also with its audience. Indeed, Arns with a beautiful touch of curation, has fruitfully brought together the work of these gifted artists fostering an environment that is as much entertaining as it is contemplative. You can read more about Arns’ curatorial process and thoughts on alien matter  through her recent interview with Furtherfield.

alien matter is on display until the 5th of March, in conjunction with the closing weekend of trasmediale. Don’t snooze on the last chance to see it!

All images are courtesy of Luca Girardini, 2017 (CC NC-SA 4.0)