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A Place in Europe (Cecilia Parsberg, Erik Pauser, Anna Westberg and Detail Group)

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The House is a mobile cinematic sculpture temporarily installed in public places throughout the city with a view to making the living situations of migrants (both inside and outside Europe) more visible. Although an increasingly common phenomenon, the living situations of migrants are routinely hidden from public view. Moving images of urban places in Stockholm are projected onto the walls and ceilings of The House. 

A Place in Europe, Sketch by Detail Group of The House, Medborgarplatsen, Stockholm, 2016.

A Place in Europe was initiated by artist Cecilia Parsberg[1], who then invited filmmaker Erik Pauser[2], dancer Anna Westberg[3] and the architects in Detail Group[4] to collaborate.

  1. Synopsis
  2. Artist’s intention and rationale
  3. Background – how the project A Place in Europe starts
  4. Phase 1, method
  5. Phase 2, the staged work to be developed and realized

A Place in Europe, Stockholm, 2016.

  1. Synopsis

A Place in Europe, Stockholm, 2016.

The place is demarcated by a highway, a large new development,[5] and some rocky hills with a grove of trees. Above are elevated subway tracks. The place is relatively low in the context of the surrounding urban landscape, and therefore not easily visible to passers by.  The surrounding borders of the built environment create a triangle within which a sort of state of exception seems to be in effect — at least for some of those who live there. Of the three five-story buildings here, two are empty and sealed up. Although the buildings are apparently slated for demolition, the timing (according to the city planners office) remains unclear. It is a place in central Stockholm where a few hundred people live, work, and circulate. Some people come from various countries in and outside Europe, some are Swedish citizens. They’ve come here for different reasons, albeit united in the hope of a more successful life. Some are doing short-term work in accordance the convention of free movement of persons in the EU, others are simply  sleeping here temporarily. It is a place in transition. There are many similar places in Europe. Moreover, they are becoming increasingly common. But it’s also a place we’ve seen at earlier points in Swedish history during large waves of migration. It is for this reason that this investigation touches down in a place like this, in this place.

In December 2015 Cecilia Parsberg got financial support for a pilot study for A Place in Europe (Phase 1). The idea was to find other competences within the arts to collaborate with in order to find ways to approach the inherent complexity of this issue.[6] Dancer Anna Westberg and film maker Erik Pauser both joined, and over a period of four months documented what was happening, and made interviews and a series of performances at the site. In the fall 2016, the architects Detail Group joined the team of A Place in Europe. Subsequently, a strategy for screening the films was developed with a view to including this urban space in the city with The House. Consequently, Detail Group made 3D sketches suitable for various public places.

A Place in Europe, Sketch by Detail Group of The House, Stureplan, Stockholm, 2016.

Our cinematic sculpture is perhaps best imagined as a re-creation of the emptied buildings in this place. A house that no longer has a function, that will be demolished or rebuilt,  corresponding with The House tilting into the ground. Like some of the boats containing migrants in the Mediterranean that are manifestly ill-equipped to actually carry people, the Swedish regulatory system is incapable of taking care of people who come here (let alone the EU regulatory system).  European societies appear incapable of transforming existing structures to meet the need. The moving images projected onto the walls and roof of The House will be edited rhythmically with words and statistics, and the audio  processed with music elements. A place in Europe can be set up anywhere. And we will be there responding to public reactions to the project.

 

  1. Artist’s intention and rationale

This is not conceived as an exclusive work but rather a demonstrably inclusive (albeit resistant to the logic of circular reproduction). Within the process of artistic research and a developing practice, new methods might constitute another form of art. The project is centered upon the idea of a round table at which a number of competences might productively collaborate to build the project. The divergent competences that make up the project team should all contribute to the development of A Place in Europe, and moreover, work to challenge respective practices and forms of knowledge in order to foster a spirit of experimentation and novelty. Comment from Anna: “In this project I have initially discussed how the concept social choreography can be used, both in social structures and within social interaction. In addition, and as a reflection of the general thoughts that have risen when spending time at this place, I have developed some different short performances in front of the camera.” For Erik: ”I have approached the project and the collaboration based on my experience as a producer and director for the last ten years of documentary films for international TV channels such as ZDF, Arte, BBC, DR, NRK, YLE, IKON, NHK, SABC, SBS, PBS and others, this collaboration has especially opened up for a rethinking of communications around how social issues can be presented in a work of art in a direct meeting in this kind of screening – with an audience that is ‘temporary’”. From the perspective of Detail Group: ”We are architects not just whose task is to find solutions, but also artists and want to be part of making visible and reflect on what is happening when society changes.” The key point of departure for all collaborators is the value of approaching the topic from a creative base, and in doing so strive to productively exchange ideas with those both at the site and within the process of developing the project and presentation. We are also collectively mindful of the potentially asymmetrical power relations at play in any process during which ”we film and interact with them”. We don’t seek to speak for ”them” but rather use our collective desire to explore a more inclusive society.

A Place in Europe has assumed a political form right through from conception to realization. The artistic research is responsive to current policy. The motivation of the project team is to participate in the discourse on migration and the city as a space for (in)justice. With The House, we seek to trigger discussions that might culminate in workshops, seminars and other forms of open discussions with a broad public, and by extension, with different fields of knowledge. Accordingly, we seek to think together. Much research on urbanity concerns how the city changes in response to social life.[7] In visualizing what is happening in this between-space, and by extension that which is not functioning, we seek to open up a space for action.

 

  1. Background – A Place in Europe [8]

There are three five-story buildings, two of them are empty and sealed up. When I search the city planners office for plans I find that the buildings are slated for demolition, but it doesn’t say when. I visit the place at the bottom the bottom of the slope that leads down to the middle house there are two campers, but there are no people visible nearby. I ask a construction worker passing by if he knows if anyone lives there. We speak English, each with our own accent. Yes, he’s seen people come out of them around six o’clock in the morning, he doesn’t know where they’re from because he’s never spoken with them. He tells me there are several other similar encampments around here.

A Place in Europe, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

“A few live over there.” He points behind him.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“From Portugal, I work there,” he says and nods down the road to where a biomass power plant is being built. I go where he pointed. On the far end of the third five-story building there are two steel doors. The left door leads to a temporary shelter in the basement with about thirty beds, operated by the City Mission. I meet a few thirty-something men from Guinea.

“Wow, there are a lot of you living here”

We go and look for work in the morning then we come back here. They gesture behind them and I see seven men exit a basement door to go smoke. One sits down, there’s only one chair. Several of them have come here through the convention of free movement of persons in the EU, others are from countries outside of Europe.

The two of us have residency permits in Portugal.

“How long have you been here?”

“Two months”

They’re happy to talk to me but don’t want me to photograph them, say where they live, or give their names.

The steel door to the right leads to Convictus shelter for the homeless. Nina, who is the director at Convictus Bryggan tells me that during the coldest half of the year they only accept women at night and men in the daytime. Most of the women are from Romania and Bulgaria and have come here to beg. The men spend their evenings and nights recycling cans or doing various kinds of day labor. Just ten years ago middle-aged Swedish men with addiction issues were the biggest group at the shelter, today most are “third country nationals,” usually from North and West Africa.[9] A similar number are from Eastern Europe, mainly Romania.[10] Those who stay here have “fallen through the cracks” between the structural exclusion and inclusion mechanisms of the system.

A Place in Europe, ”Womens night” at Convictus, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg. 2016.

Every morning at half past six the doors open and a long trail of humans wander off with their belongings in blue Ikea bags. They’re going to the city to seek work, beg, and perhaps look for a different place to sleep, there is a lot of pressure on the shelters. At the same time about a hundred construction workers arrive at another entrance to the same building. They soon emerge again, wearing bright green and yellow vests, orange or red helmets. Those who haven’t gotten work stand around smoking, waiting their turn.

A Place in Europe, Filmstills by Erik Pauser, 2016.

On the way back I see a van, the side door has been taken off it and is leaned up against it. After ascertaining that nobody’s there I raise my camera above the door and shoot. I look at the image; people are sleeping here too.[11] I ask a worker locking up the car next to me if he knows anything, but no, he has no idea what country the owners of the car are from, he says in a neutral tone. He’s from Poland.

A Place in Europe, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg. 2016

The transformation of the space

In and around the middle one of the three shuttered buildings, there is artistic activity – a self-organized cluster of artists have intervened in the environment with their art. A new overpass has been built behind the buildings, far too close. There’s a loading dock along the back of the House. With the arrival of the overpass there’s no longer enough space to drive vehicles up to it for loading. But the overpass provides shelter to some. Next to the concrete wall they’ve made themselves sleeping places out of wooden pallets. They make their beds there every night. The location is secluded and they can sleep there relatively unbothered, a few security guards on patrol are the only people with a view of their open bedroom, and the guards appear to accept their presence. I’ve seen many similarly furnished, organized sleeping places in central Stockholm. There are about ten sections under the loading dock and I can glimpse rolled-up mattresses, clothes, and blankets under most of them. In one of these encampments several shoes are lined up.

A Place in Europe, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg, 206.

In the five-story building next to the loading dock there are about thirty rooms on each floor. In here, as well as outside, artists have created a series of pieces. If they’d wanted and tried to get in, the homeless people might have found the ladder that the artists had hidden and seen that the window on the second floor can be opened. But they don’t seem to think along those lines. The begging people I’ve previously spoken with say that they don’t want to bother anyone, they want to live an orderly life, they don’t want to break rules and ordinances they want a home and a job. And the same is probably true of most of those who come here looking for work. They don’t want to be out there, but they don’t want to be in there either.

Outside the buildings a kind of bare life is underway[12] and inside one of the buildings as well as outside there’s a kind of artistic activity. The transformation of the space is giving rise to both these activities. Urban spaces – that aren’t included in urban planning, and are still constituted in the city by people, such as the places, sleeping places, closets of begging – are not a representation of something, they are a political form in and of themselves. What forces are at work in this liminal space?

A Place in Europe, “Because it never ends” Paintings by AKAY and KlisterPeter, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

When structures change voids – anomies – can emerge, fictions are created in anomies. For whom, for what, is this art made? How is this art connected to the (transmission of) meaning and content?[13] Two of the artists, claim when we talk about their art that they give without expecting anything in return. It seems to me that their idea of what art is unites them; with friendship, trust, they make art alone and together with other artists that come there.

The method is performative.[14] “Performance resists the balanced calculations of finance. It saves nothing, it only spends,”[15] writes Peggy Phelan. But this isn’t a wasteful resistance, not consumption with the ulterior motive of accumulation, but a lusty transgression.[16] Another thing that makes this art interesting is that the artists don’t work alone, other artists are active here, nor do they work as a group. “Individual genius is not the origin of culture,” as Rasmus Fleischer and Samira Ariadad write in their essay “Att göra gemensamma rum” [Creating common spaces].[17] They describe a system that has embraced the liberal idea that the private and the public are opposites, and that income for sustenance is won and communities found through a dialectical struggle. But what’s in between, in the act of giving without getting anything in return; these artists are well aware that they won’t make a livelihood off their work. “The aesthetic economy is always dependent on a border between the internal and the external (the frame as an on the side of, outer-work, parergon) that neither belongs to the internal nor the external, and that can be understood as a framing effect that always remains unstable: the frame is always about to crack, at the same time as it can never completely fall away, and de-framing and framing are like two vectors, the interplay of which constitutes the dynamics of the aesthetic field, and where one will always refer to the other,”[18] as Sven-Olof Wallenstein puts it.

A Place in Europe, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

The question remains, what kind of place is this? The fact that the area is under surveillance means that the area is a place in some sense. It’s not an obvious non-place, since the surveillance makes it a place in some sense. Those I’ll speak to half a year later – the cleaning firm that participates in evictions – calls places like this X-places, but the people who work at the shelters don’t like that, the situation here is their existence, their reality. That’s also why it isn’t a “non-place” in anthropologist Marc Agué’s sense where the place is contracted and the person becomes anonymous through the nature of the place.[19] This place is also populated by people, the shelters, the encampments; people who use it in various ways, the workers’ locker- and break-rooms. Thomas and Samuel have lived under the loading dock for two and a half years. It’s something between a place and a non-place. It’s a liminal space that could be described as “vague terrain” – a designation for unproductive, undefined places that have been abandoned, often placed between exploited productive places in a city.[20] But that’s not quite right either, this area isn’t abandoned and will be populated, it is populated and activated. It’s not a place in transition but a place that is waiting – a waiting place – the condition of the place creates the conditions for art because perhaps this is exactly what makes it attractive for artists to claim. They encroach on such places.[21] The artists ponder the place while they create – with their images they reflect upon what’s going on here and in that way they also indirectly relate to the migrants and guest workers that populate the place. (And perhaps the condition of the place even dictates the practice of an [unknown] number of artists.)

  1. Phase 1 –  method

I too encroach on it together with the filmmaker Erik Pauser and the dancer and choreographer Anna Westberg with funding from Kulturbryggan. We want to make visible this place, the people and their living conditions. But our work emerges in a different way, we have a different method, but we plug into the art of the other artists since it will appear in images and recordings. We too create activity in this place, which demands that we connect to the people who live and work here, and negotiate which images should be made visible. In this sense the place is a space for negotiation. When different realities meet negotiations arise between different parties that inhabit a place, the homeless, artists, workers, guards, property owners, when abandoned or soon to be demolished houses are used in ways other than those planned or expected. The place as political form poses questions of when and between which logics and parties negotiations will be initiated, how and over what. Which parties will participate? It’s a place waiting to be made visible.

A Place in Europe, Photo by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

We begin with talking to the people and keep going here during spring 2016. We film the area and meet people, and make a series of performances which we film.

A Place in Europe,  Photo by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

Where the docks used to be there are now two shacks. Two men walk toward me. We greet and strike up a conversation; they’re from Algeria. One of them, who I speak English with, shows his residency card from Spain, he can live there for twelve years. His family is there and they live in a house, but he lost his job and came here a few weeks ago to try to find a livelihood and now lives in a shack that he’s built himself.

“It’s not human to live like this,” he says and shows.

“It’s getting cold.”

“Yes, I’m going to Spain soon, I give up, you can’t get work here without a personal identification number and I don’t want to do what the Romanians do – they beg, I’d never do that.”

A Place in Europe, Photos by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

The need and necessity is visible and raw.

A Place in EuropeRobert from Rumania, Photo by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016

It takes time to build trust, we spend a lot of time and slowly we get to the various meetings. The project takes shape through the places and the people who are here to show the way. We speak to among others Thomas, 45, who has a residency permit and two jobs but is homeless and living under loading dock of the House. Samuel, 35, does too. He is homeless and undocumented from Ghana/Togo. And Albert, from Nigeria who has a residency permit and a job. Leonas from Lithuania has lost his passport and his cellphone and is living in the yard. Mohamed is from Libya and has had a residency permit for eight years, he can only find temporary work, usually off the books and lives in one of the shacks under the freeway. Said, 38, from Morocco, who’s just gotten his personal identification number and begun taking Swedish classes for immigrants lives in the shack across the way. Maria, a begging person from Romania who sleeps at the shelter sometimes. We speak with Arne who has had homes and been homeless and now manages daytime activities at Convictus, and with Michaela from Romania who works with the women’s night operations, as well as Nina from Finland (the director at Convictus). We also speak to a few workers from Poland and from Ireland, and one foreman from Sweden. But neither the management company for the House, the cleaning company, nor the owners of the alarm company – all established businesses in Sweden want to talk to us.

A Place in Europe, Eviction of those who live under the House’s loading dock. Stockholm, June, 9, Filmstill by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016.

It is an afternoon in June, A truck, dumpsters, the cleaning company, the alarm company, the House management, and the police arrive. They clear all encampments on the property, including those under the loading dock behind the House and Leonas’ home under the bike shack. But not the other shacks around, because they’re on land that belongs to the transportation authorities and the City of Stockholm. Those who tear out and throw away other people’s personal effects don’t want to be filmed and try to stop us, but since we are standing on ground owned by the City of Stockholm we can film what’s going on. Those who are doing the cleaning especially don’t like us filming, even after we’ve explained that we are not focusing on faces, but what they’re doing. They react strongly and emotionally. Two policemen are emotional too and want to stop me, while another policeman comes up and asks why and wants to listen. The homeless whose temporary homes are being put in the dumpster want us to film and they tell their stories in front of the camera.

A Place in Europe, Photo by Anna Westberg, 2016.

Lives that have been separated – by an imagined structure – can also be connected – by a lived structure – but not without hope of something else.

This is how Hannah Arendt describes the phenomenon of houses: “It implies ‘housing somebody’ and being ‘dwelt in’ as no tent could house or serve as a dwelling place which is put up today and taken down tomorrow. The word house, Solon’s ‘unseen measure,’ ‘holds the limit of all things’ pertaining to dwelling; it is a word that could not exist unless one presupposes thinking about being housed, dwelling, having a home. As a word house is a shorthand for all these things.”[22] Hannah Arendt writes of thinking that a meaning can be reclaimed by contemplating a word: “The word house is something like a frozen thought that thinking must unfreeze, defrost as it were, whenever it wants to find its original meaning.”[23] And this place waiting for transformation is a frozen thought in the middle of Stockholm. In some ways disconnected from, but still linked to, the prevailing social structure.

In this place waiting for transformation, there are hopes.[24] In those who come to seek work in Sweden and try to get residency permits and personal identification numbers, in the homeless who build themselves temporary shacks, in those who come to beg, in those who come to work at Sweden’s largest biomass power plant, in those who work for the aid organizations – civil society’s organized support for the homeless and others who “fall through the cracks”, in the older couple in one of the campers whose son got a job in Stockholm, in the construction company that has gotten a demolition permit for the buildings, but no permit for a new building, in the artists to continue creating, in the person who with a repetitive motion reaches out a hand waiting for a response and hopes that this response will mark the start of a negotiation.

A Place in Europe, Photo by Cecilia Parsberg, 2016

The films produced in Phase 1 are based on dialogue with the people at site during a month spread over four months. It is usually a time demanding process to connect with people—especially with those who are in a vulnerable situation. We provided a clear statement as to why we wanted to film them and their situation and why we sought to do so through art. We said: ”We want to visualize this place because people don’t know about this life situation of yours. This is a place which we can find anywhere in Europe. In Sweden it represents a paradigm shift; less than a decade ago the Swedish homeless fell outside the social welfare program because of substance abuse and mental health problems and today poor European migrants, overseas migrants and refugees is a dominant part. Temporary camps, like at this place, have sprung up. Migration processes are present almost daily in the media and in the political debate. However, it’s often based on theories about what is going on, it needs to be shown because it’s invisible to people, they have to see it. Would you like to be part of making this visualised?” We filmed only those who agreed.

  1. Phase 2, the staged work to be developed and realized[25]:
  • The House. From thinking ”film-installation” together with architects we – the project team – have developed sketches of a ”cinematic sculpture”. The films are backprojected from inside the house on to the plexi-plastic walls and roof. We see The House as a mobile social image, the house is turned over, dives into the ground. The House will make visible the urban place and the hidden situation. It will be set up temporarily, with or without authorization. The House can also be placed indoors in an exhibition or outside an institution during a period.
  • An essay on the research subject and context. As well as work method: if we are to be able to discuss the ethical – which is necessitated by the political – the process needs to be made visible as well as the result, that is to say the method that is developed.[26]
  • A workshop to catch up the audience, those who want to engage further, and this can be combined with public seminars with participants from different fields such as politicians, activists, researchers. An intensive housing construction is underway in Sweden – for whom are the houses built and which are considered in this process?

 

A Place in Europe, Sketch by Detail Group of The House, The Swedish Parliament, Stockholm, 2016.

Contact: Cecilia Parsberg, Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts in Visual Arts, Lund Univeristy.

 

Supported by  www.kulturbryggan.se

Notes

[1] www.ceciliaparsberg.se. In 2015 I wrote the last chapter – Chapter 9: A place in Europe – in my doctoral thesis in Fine Arts digitally published on www.beggingandgiving.se. In the spring 2015 I applied for support to start up an art project based on this research.

[2] www.erikpauser.com

[3] ask for separate CV

[4] www.detailgroup.se

[5] A new biomass power plant is being built. Fortum is investing five billion Swedish Kronor, which is the largest industrial investment in Sweden, it will be fueled using byproducts from the logging industry.
“Tillsammans skapar vi en grönare stad”. www.fortum.com/countries/se/kampanjer/biobransle-vartan/pages/default.aspx. Accessed July 26, 2016.

[6] Kulturbryggan startstöd omgång 11, SS11 – 5601, nov 2015. Kulturbyggan is administrated by Swedish Arts Grants Committee to support innovative art and development of methodology in Fine Arts.

[7] Which in part is what concerns Cecilia Parsberg’s doctoral thesis: www.beggingandgiving.se.

[8] A full length version can be read and viewed in Chapter 9 of www.beggingandgiving.se. Direct link http://beggingandgiving.se/kapitel-9/#chap9-1

[9] One of them is Thomas from Ghana, he is a former soldier, who moved to Italy and got work and a residency permit — but when the situation became too difficult he came to Sweden where he now has a residency permit. He’s been living outside, under the loading dock behind the House for two and a half years. Thomas distributes advertising between two a.m. and nine a.m. then goes to Convictus, eats, takes a shower, sometimes he does laundry there. He is one of those who wants to tell his story for the camera and comes up to us when he’s seen that we’ve been back every week or so for the past three months, to film the area and try to talk to people.

[10] “Convictus Bryggan Hjorthagen”. Accessed July 26, 2016,  www.convictus.org/hemloshet/bryggan_ostermalm.html.

[11] I don’t think it’s okay to photograph other people’s bedrooms without their permission, but in this situation my assessment is that it’s more important to show how people live here. The photograph is an example of one of the ethics-aesthetics negotiations that constantly arise – decisions that must be made quickly and on site. When I include this photo with my shadow I also want to show a transgression of a limit in which I am putting the viewer’s trust in my images at risk. At times I misjudge, I encourage reflection on the part of the reader and viewer. The discussion about the ethical must be kept open.

[12] “But in every judicial order there is an exception from order that in a kind of paradox regulates what applies when no order applies, in the state of exception. There the sovereign becomes precisely a sovereign again – and accordingly the citizen is reduced to a bare life. Agamben’s thesis is that this is ‘ultimate foundation of political power’ and thus the political essence that precedes every social contract.” writes Ola Sigurdson, professor of religious studies and systemic theology at the University of Gothenburg, in an article about philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s book Homo Sacer.
Ola Sigurdson, “Agamben visar hur kulturen inkräktar på livet”, Svenska Dagbladet, August 23, 2010. Accessed July 26, 2016, http://www.svd.se/agamben-visar-hur-politiken-inkraktar-pa-livet/om/kultur:under-strecket.

[13] Art critic Fredrik Svensk expresses the importance of constantly trying to understand in the face of what images art is made and can be made: “Because aren’t mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion that take place mainly on a sensual basis far more important to understand today than those that happen through a conventional politics of selection and representation?” A review of the Nordic pavilion in Venice 2015.
Frederik Svensk, “Paviljongen som exklusiv symfoniorkester”, Kunstkritikk, May 14, 2015. Accessed July 26, 2016, www.kunstkritikk.se/kritikk/paviljongen-som-exklusiv-symfoniorkester/?d=se.

[14] “Thus while performance can be understood as a deliberate ‘act’ such as in theatre production, performance art or painting by a subject or subjects, performativity must be understood as the iterative and citational practice that brings into being that what it names.” writes Barbara Bolt, on page 134, referring to Judith Butler. “Butler is very clear that performativity involves repetition rather than singularity. Performativity is ‘not a singular act for it is always a reiteration of a norm or set of norm, and to the extent that it acquires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition.’” Barbara Bolt, “Artistic Research: A performative paradigm?” PARSE, No. 3 (2016). Accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.parsejournal.com/article/artistic-research-a-performative-paradigm/.

[15] Phelan, Peggy, Unmarked: the politics of performance, New York: Routledge, 1993, 148.

[16] Michael Richardson writes, in his interpretation of philosopher George Bataille:
“If we stick to facts capitalism doesn’t escape the dialectical logic of Bataille: It consumes, and consumes just as meaninglessly, just as wastefully as any other society. What capitalism is lacking isn’t the consumption but every kind of lusty transgression. When we waste we do it grudgingly, all the time and with an ulterior motive of ultimately accumulating.” Michael Richardson, Georges Bataille. (New York: Routledge, 2005), 79.

[17] “Individual genius is not the origin of culture, as the tenacious myth of the originator without communities would have it. These communities too need to happen, especially in the gray areas, like rehearsal spaces. According to a liberal view on culture, ‘culture’ is something free floating – culture doesn’t need to happen and it doesn’t need community.” Samira Ariadad and Rasmus Fleischer, “Att göra gemensamma rum”, Brand, No. 1 (2010), 44–6. Accessed July 7, 2016, www.samhallsentreprenor.glokala.se/wp-content/uploads/Att_gora_gemensamma_rum.pdf.

[18] Ibid., 59.

[19] Marc Augé, Non-Places: An Introduction to Anthropology of Supermodernity, (New York: Verso, 1995), 101. Accessed July 26, 2016, www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jread2/Auge%20Non%20places.pdf.

[20] Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Catalan architect, historian and philosopher, coined the term terrain vague, applied to abandoned, obsolete and unproductive areas, with no clear definitions and limits. See: “Ignasi de Solà-Morales”, Wikipedia. Accessed July 26, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignasi_de_Solà-Morales. Accessed November 6, 2016.

“With the coining of the term Terrain Vague, Ignasi de Solà-Morales is interested in the form of absence in the contemporary metropolis. This interest focuses on abandoned areas, on obsolete and unproductive spaces and buildings, often undefined and without specific limits, places to which he applies the French term terrain vague. Regarding the generalized tendency to ‘reincorporate’ these places to the productive logic of the city by transforming them into reconstructed spaces, Solà-Morales insists on the value of their state of ruin and lack of productivity. Only in this way can these strange urban spaces manifest themselves as spaces of freedom that are an alternative to the lucrative reality prevailing in the late capitalist city. They represent an anonymous reality.”

“Terrain Vague”, Atributos Urbanos. Accessed July 26, 2016, http://atributosurbanos.es/en/terms/terrain-vague. Accessed November 6, 2016.

[21] “A gradual advance beyond usual or acceptable limits: urban encroachment of habitat.” “Encroachment”, Oxford Dictionaries. Accessed July 26, 2016, www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/encroachment. Accessed November 6, 2016.

[22] Hannah Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture”, Social Research, Vol. 38, No. 3, (Autumn 1971), 430–1. Accessed July 29, 2016, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40970929

[23] The sentence continues “In medieval philosophy this kind of thinking was called meditation, and the word should be heard as different from, even opposed to, contemplation.” Ibid, 431.

[24] Every year the Stockholm region grows by 35,000 inhabitants. The number comes from information about Värta and Hjorthagen where this place-non-place is located. “Vi bygger om Värtahamnen”. Accessed July 26, 2016, www.stockholmshamnar.se/stockholm/vi-bygger-om-vartahamnen.

[25]  Finances yet to be covered. To be part of financing this project, please contact: c.parsberg@gmail.com

[26] The essay is engaged from, and a continuation of, Cecilia Parsbergs’s last chapter – Chapter 9. A Place in Europe – in her doctoral thesis www.beggingandgiving.se.

New Hypothetical Continents (Benjamin Matthews)

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Transdisciplinary Art-Based Collaboration

Lucas Maddock, “New Hypothetical Continents” (Detail, 2014), point map (artist’s work)

Project initiators and key authors:

  • Dr Benjamin Matthews (Western Sydney University)
  • Lucas Maddock

 

1. Project Description

1.1. Introduction

Over recent years, there has been a resurgent interest in utopia in the arts. Indeed, Vermeulen and van den Akker (2015) have described what they see as a “utopian turn” in contemporary art, where a “structure of feeling” that moves beyond the postmodern has emerged. Certainly, understanding the influence of utopia becomes increasingly important in the kinetic digital age where speed and surface play replace depth and reflection. Even websites, once examples of databased content to be explored over time, have been disrupted by the “feed” format of social media, where the most recent demands attention and our concentration is shifted ever forward into an urgent “data present” (Manovich).

The speed of this data flow relates strongly to Paul Virilio’s (1999) increasingly relevant dystopian vision of the loss of the “body proper in favour of the spectral body” (48). In Virilio’s view the body, suspended in digital space, slips away from the world  tapping frightening potentials to generate fictive utopias as  hypothetical versions of reality. He would later name this space the “sixth continent” and claim that it threatens the “morphological stability of reality” (Politics, 86). These alternative realities exist as bodies or fictive masses in their own right – divorced from reality we refer to them here as “hypothetical continents”. With particular interest in how utopian accounts threaten to dominate the non-space of this sixth continent, NHCs frames a challenge: how are we to resist the dystopian impetus of the sixth continent? Is it possible the media on which this emergent hypothetical continent is based can push back toward the world, and stabilise our accelerated sense of the real?

Some hope for an answer in the affirmative can be discovered in the argument that the sixth continent is also inhabited by the kinetic agents of resistant, radical groups that include creative content makers of all kinds: artists, filmmakers, photographers, anthropologists, philosophers, writers, curators, coders and musicians. Networked individuals and collectivism is able to formulate alternate places that supplement the most visible territories of the sixth continent.

Through the facilitation of informal networks of collaborators and the establishment of an interactive website, NHCs will host and amass a burgeoning database of creative materials that will aim to both disrupt and, paradoxically, stabilise the bodies that intersect and become tangible via these hypothetical spaces.

This collective and the repository of works it establishes will foster the intent to disrupt the line between database and world. Interactants will participate in the generation of opportunities for dialogue, producing works that irrupt from the digital and connect body with world via a range of forms of mediation. In this way, the database becomes a commons and an anchor to the collective’s intent to disrupt the spectral body by creating new fixing points beyond the digital.

The first step will be to establish an interactive website as a platform for a new hypothetical territory – one that creates a stable virtual “space”. Here, collective reflection and exploration are possible, encouraging broad and dynamic participation such that new hypothetical continents can be presented, and existing ones may be critiqued and responded to.

This will be achieved by inviting viewers and participants to pause, reflect, and engage with apparent contradictions between utopian intent and outcome in both contemporary and historical instances. Interactants will browse through a collection of previously uploaded user-generated content, and become participants in a community of value by commenting on and responding directly to the work of other members.

In this way the NHCs database will present and facilitate the generation of materials that will identify scenes of origin and myth generation, and use these as the basis for reality driven representations and performances of history. It will establish the database as a stronghold: a database to anchor against the destabilising speed of the data stream, and the data present while sparking  dialogue, discussion and creative responses to the continuing influence of the figure of utopia.

The central, and necessary, element of the project for 2017 will be an interactive website that contains contextualising documentary-style semi-narrative content, along with a participatory interface. The audience will be invited to contribute examples of objects and reflective writing that explores the NHC’s theme of utopian portrayals of history. These may be either found (and recontextualised) art works, or items created as a response to the project’s theme.

1.2. Material Outcomes

Examples of material outcomes may include: interactive web-delivered creation/s; events such as curated exhibitions and performances that incorporate multiple media and players;  and Creative Commons licenced digital and print publications. For instance:

  • Exhibitions (online or otherwise) of items curated from contributions to the website and composed by participants
  • Multi-disciplinary book (electronic and print versions)
  • Dramatic performance including live electronic/traditional musical interpretation/performance
  • Free standing curatorial projects

1.3. New Hypothetical Continents?

The 2010s have given rise to collective aesthetic and intellectual movements that engage with the impact of global flows of digitised capital and culture, and the expanded influence of related industry such as high-tech manufacturing. Examples include “Vaporwave” (music), “the New Aesthetic” (design) and “ruin porn”, each of which are only made coherent by presenting consistently ambivalent responses to the effects of technology, and very frequently these responses rely on high-tech means of creation and mediation. Each movement is emergent, in the sense that they are not intended or centrally governed, but instead are spontaneous creations of extended networks of individuals. The participants tend to respond to a broad set of themes and conditions via aesthetic means, rather than the particular circumstances and politic that tended to define the art movements of the 1900s.

These movements express dissatisfaction with the utopian presentation of technology and its impacts by the agents of late capitalism that dominated the period leading up to the end of the second millennium. Digital communication and media, high-tech manufacturing and the computational devices and processes they rely on are the subject of direct or indirect comment. Typically this is achieved by removing and reframing the output from the circumstances of its production, in the mode of appropriation that underpinned the art movements of modernism. Here, these aestheticising procedures are executed with goal of participation in a self-corrupting joke: one intended to fail at all but the expression of ambivalence.

If the “new” quality in these contemporary aesthetic engagements with history is to be distilled, then, it must be as a frustration with the utopian presentation of the role technology was to play in our lives. Intentionally paradoxical, the participants express a distaste for the very process of appropriation that underpins the movements in the first instance – and a sense that beyond the remix culture that they comment upon is an empty nostalgia that leads only toward the allure of utopia itself. This is why each movement engages with themes such as control and surveillance, corruption, decline, decay and ruin via high tech means that hypothesise dystopic visions of impossible present day coherence. There is no such thing as the New Aesthetic or Vaporwave: they are dark comedy instead, parodic of coherency, and perhaps better understood as representing a sensibility rather than movements.

Whilst attempting to understand this sensibility, it is useful to look across the history of utopia. Utopia has been variously defined as preoccupied with a past that never was, a future yet to be realised or a forcibly imagined present in the mode of fiction. The last became orthodox in early modern utopias, where fictional islands became the site of seminal works that are now considered precursors to the modern novel. Strong examples are works such as Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627), and Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines (1668), which became effective critiques of dominant ideology by offering fictive solutions to social contradictions of that time[1].

Each of these fictions hypothesise a space, and present narrative portrayals of elements of the real world in a new, “ideal” configuration “as-if” they were real. This rhetorical as-if gesture contrasts the virtual dimension of the utopia with the reality outside these imagined spaces, inviting reflection on each. For instance, the full title of More’s fictive work of political philosophy was De optimo rei publicae deque nova insula Utopia[2]. His defining name for the island society herein described – Utopia – combines the Greek prefix “ou-” (οὐ), meaning “not”, and topos (τόπος), meaning “place”. This (very likely) satiric construct describes a model society founded on slave labour in a non-place, or a place that does not exist.

More’s ideal construct was likely intended as a comment on the dangerous quality of assuming ideal situations are ever able to exist. However, given their proximity with the world beyond the fictional construct, utopian narratives are ever in danger of collapsing into the real, and being mistaken for reality itself. They rely on reflection, and time taken to contrast the as-if with that which lies beyond it. In recent history and the present, speed of information flows and mobile access mean permanent connection to large volumes of data in real time for many – and that the remainder of us are entangled with the effects of this connectivity.

Lev Manovich (2013) argues that rather than engaging with databases, as we once did via the World Wide Web, we now live in the “data present”, as is evident in ubiquitous construct of social media, where feeds create a continuous flow of events he calls the “data stream”. Each event will work to “push the earlier ones from the immediate view. The most important event is always the one that is about to appear next because it heightens the experience of the ‘data present’”. The data stream participates what Manovich calls “a quintessential modern experience (‘Make it new’), only intensified and accelerated”. The new, in our present world, replaces reflection with speed, such that any challenge or resistance created by utopian fictions is overwhelmed by immediacy and volume.

In Paul Virilio’s description of the “sixth continent”  he argues that the body becomes lost, creating a:

confusion in feelings of belonging and with the drift of the five continents that make up geographical space towards the sixth continent of cyberspace, [such that] suddenly the morphological stability of reality is threatened with collapse. If it goes down, it will not only drag culture down with it, but also – equally – the most durable reality there is: the reality of the orientation, not of some ‘hypnotic’ vision now as in the past, but of the very fact of being-in-the-world and the rationality that goes with it. (University, 86)

His terrestrial creation, the sixth continent, inhabits a virtual space, but with the effect of destabilising the relationship between presence and rationality. This pattern, Virilio insists, is consistent with a history where the powerful shape narrative representations of the present.

In “cyberspace”, such fictions of the present operate with sudden potency, and as a result, the usual pattern of conquest and control is being repeated. Virilio argues this “hypnotic vision” is elevated to the position of reality, replacing the existing geographic construct, and writes of the recent “neocolonial conquest of this ‘sixth continent’, of a virtual space that replaces the real space of the other five [continents]” (Stop, 77). For Virilio, reality itself is at stake, where the contest over being challenges the ontological stability of more than individual and collective perspective on history: into the bargain, a collapse of rationality threatens to remove any and all sense of being-in-the-world.

 

 

 

2. Initial Experimentation on the NHCs

2.1. Utopia and Glover’s Hobart – Dr Benjamin Matthews and Lucas Maddock

Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point, by John Glover (see Figure 1) was created at a time when most Tasmanian Aborigines had died as a result of the Tasmanian Black War with the remainders incarcerated on Flinder’s Island. Yet in the foreground of the work can be seen a group of subjects portrayed as free to act and inhabit the landscape with a “native”, undisturbed presence.

In this example of a utopian vision we see an origin point fixed for a fictional history – regardless of Glover’s intent, this origin is an invented scene that enables and generates false perspectives on history.

The real Tasmania, or Van Diemen’s Land, was founded as a penal colony in a manner disturbingly similar to the originary fictive vision created by More in his Utopia. In Tasmania the use of convict labour replaced the slaves, and the fictive premise of Terra Nullius permitted a rationale for the removal of native inhabitants. Assuming the status of Terra Nullius, from the Roman law that dictates this is “nobody’s land”, on behalf of Tasmania meant assuming its “discovery” rendered it a reality. In other words, from the European perspective before this time Tasmania was a “not” place. A non-place: a Utopia discovered, and simultaneously created.

This fictive dimension appears extended in the portrayal of the natural environment in Glover’s painting, which is exaggerated to present a romantic vision and mode of dissociation from (and reduction of) reality that appear intrinsic to the colonial endeavour and its justifications.

The handling of the indigenous subjects in the foreground is consistent with this utopian aesthetic presentation, which relies on the creation of an artificial binary of inclusion and exclusion. In order for a utopian project to progress, its subjects must firstly identify with their goals and act accordingly. This necessitates the identification and exclusion of those who are not working toward the common goals, and the creation of the “other”. The end point in such a divide is often justified exploitation, displacement, prejudice and as starkly exemplified by the history of Tasmanian colonisation, persecution and genocide. This is one of the elements of colonisation that appears common to utopian endeavour: its tendency to create “collateral damage”.

Figure 1: John Glover, “Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point (1831-33),” (1834), oil on canvas,  76.2 h x 152.4 w cm framed (overall) 995 h x 1750 w x 115 d mm, National Gallery of Australia (public domain).

Glover’s painting depicts the fundamental structures of two opposing civilisations, one illuminated, the other shaded, playing out the violent theatre of survival on an awe inspiring stage. The majesty of Glover’s natural environment participates in the myth of rule by nature over civilisation, and the prevailing “reality” of the need to respond with artificial means of control. In the background, “Red Coats” can be seen drilling and toiling in semi-orderly lines on the hillside near Hobart, as the mountains rear-up to powerful heights behind.

Glover’s depiction of these people (in the foreground) creates a beguiling narrative. The painting depicts and denotes a happy co-existence between civilisations, but what does it connote? This ambivalent scene could be propaganda that masks the atrocities of the colonial power, or contrapuntally, sarcastic and satirical injunction. The dynamic created by this ambivalence points toward a problematic assemblage; one which is further polarised by the illumination of Hobart Town by the sun in an otherwise shaded sweep of water and land.

A thick reading of the apparent exaggerations of the environment might lead us to assert a connection between the artist’s enthusiasm in this ostensibly innocent distortion of reality (that has resulted in so romanticised a depiction), and a far more sinister reality that will result in (and even permit) atrocity.

 

2.2. Experiment #1_ New Hypothetical Continents (2014) – Lucas Maddock

In 1969 artist Robert Smithson appropriated an illustrated map from Lewis Spence’s History of Atlantis and used it to form the basis for his installation Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis) (See Figures 2 + 3). Smithson’s installation came in the wake of his failed Island of Broken Glass project, which would have seen several tonnes of broken glass piled on an Islet in the Georgia Straight. When viewed from afar, and in direct sunlight, the installation was intended to affect a “shimmering collapse of decreased sharpness”.

FIgure 2: Lewis Spence (1874-1955) “Map showing probable relative position of Atlantis (A) and Antillia (B)” as published in The History of Atlantis (1926).

In this light, the Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis) appears consolatory and captures all the pathos of the ‘unrealised project’. The Lewis map presented here, once again in sculptural form, draws inspiration from our fascination with the spectacular and the romantic and dissociated wonder prevalent in John Glover’s Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point (1831-33). Exploring how dangerous utopian notions permeate our current ideologies, NHCs presents a contemporary Atlantis – one standing at the height of its glory and boasting a spectacle so great that it can only warn of its own demise (see Figures 4-8).

Figure 4: Lucas Maddock, “New Hypothetical Continents” (2014), point map (artist’s work)

Figure 5: Lucas Maddock, “New Hypothetical Continents” (2014), computer generated model (artist’s work)

Figure 6: Lucas Maddock, “New Hypothetical Continents” (2014), maquette, bronze, edition of 5 + 1AP 26 x 20.5 x 8 cm (photography by Christo Crocker).

Figure 7: Lucas Maddock, “New Hypothetical Continents” (2014), wireframe, 460 x 350 cm (photography by Christo Crocker)

Figure 8:Lucas Maddock and Darius Devas, “New Hypothetical Continents – Norla Dome Film” (2014), still, (artist’s work).

 

2.3. Experiment #2_ Neokairos: The NHCs as an Algorithm – Dr Benjamin Matthews (2014)

Formulated as an algorithm, these conditions and potentials can be imagined as constituted by the following:

  1. The difference engine that is formed when utopia is placed alongside dystopia is frightening in its scope but appropriately braced by the vertiginous potential in human communities for rapid change. Equally confronting in memory is the inevitable juxtaposition of these categories.
  2. Like any binary opposition, this one is built on transcendence, and in our attempts to capture these orbiting suns we are reminded that they are fictive categories, and absent definition: that this possibility is deferred at the event horizon of our capacious imaginal function.
  3. Imagine a digital portrayal of this event horizon as a non-space. In so doing one has a sense of the depth of the network, the condition of contemporaneity, or atemporaneity: the sixth continent that is emergent from this atemporaneity, generated in cyberspace and based upon informational technologies, inhabits no space at all.
  4. How can the centre hold in this apophatic space? Where the dialectics of inclusion and exclusion, inside and out, have collapsed with a paradoxical flatness – paradoxical, since this is a vertical emergence – the nonterrain does not anticipate a future, or have memory of a past.
  5. The scene of culture is here challenged, replaced by kairos, or an ongoing presentness. This is the scene of culture, this real-time in which the individual is freed of the constraints of temporality and spatiality, but made to lie about their presence by virtue of these facts.
  6. Where the ecological circumstances of the network – it has only emerged on this scale and in this way because there is no “future” in the real human habitat – remind us too, in real-time, of the speed at which the non-future approaches.
  7. Thus, we, the networked individuals, are spurred on to greater action, a great sense that this is the time. We are of a false sense of kairos, a “neokairos”, and so we photograph every moment and stencil it as data across this site of exchange, where sacrality has become diluted by the absence of a centre, and the inability of any single scene to capture the attention of the community.
  8. Into this space erupts a new aesthetic, the aporetic non-solution to the loss of ground on which to set the moral compass, and bound the moral sense. In the network, under the conditions of now, those who know are the heroes. Those who know notice that there is a centre, something is still sacred, that there are still victims, and they remember what abstraction is.
  9. And so we see emerging in the network itself the paradoxical agency associated of this new aesthetic, realised as presence of memory, of staged and restaged scenes of culture on which the future is indicated, and on which we are reminded of the presence of individual and collective memory.
  10. Via the ocularcentric network is re-presented an alterity of the image: the flat death of two dimensionality generated by pictures is rendered, rethought, re-shifted to remind us of its consumption by us, of how this abstraction becomes the imaginal condition of the 3D human agent being-in-the-world.
  11. Abstraction itself may have already been host to a singularity after which this flatness became the habitat for a discourse that is beyond us, and in the world of objects, where an alien intelligence may exist, and where possible bodies huddle.
  12. But you, meanwhile, as object, are corporeal and mobile. You share this sensibility as you continue to hack, to contribute to the flat world of data, and as it (the sensibility) directs you to remember that you are not a tourist.
  13. Instead, you are an irenic agent, obsessed to map memory against photographic record of your passing (through natural and plastic environments), having laid aside armed and threatening violent intrusion in favour of the mediative shoot.
  14. Not soldier, nor auteur, you are instead, the finally global-object-citizen, free to explore and create in simultaneity new hypothetical continents that may stabilise not only your vision, but your being, in an action that recuperates reality itself.

 

 

3. Works Cited

Manovich, Lev. “Future Fictions.” Frieze, 16 June 2013, https://frieze.com/article/future-fictions. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.

More, Thomas, Bacon, Francis, and Neville, Henry. Oxford World’s Classics : Three Early Modern Utopias : Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines. Cambridge, GB: Oxford Paperbacks, 1999.

Vermeulen, Timotheus, and Robin van den Akker. “Utopia, Sort of: A Case Study in Metamodernism.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 87, no. sup1, Dec. 2014, pp. 55–67, 10.1080/00393274.2014.981964.

Virilio, Paul. The futurism of the instant: Stop-eject. Polity, 2010.

—-. University of disaster. Polity, 2010.

Virilio, Paul, et al. Politics of the Very Worst: An Interview by Philippe Petit. New York, Semiotext (E), 1 May 1999.

[1]See More et al. for a detailed discussion (pp. ix-xlii)

[2]Ibid.

Walking with Satellites (Chris Wood)

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Walking with Satellites is an exploration of meanings held within the GPS satellite network (typically hidden behind the hegemony of user interfaces). It contends that rather than being concentrated in the ways an individual interacts with technical objects and interfaces, an experience of space is held by the multiple human and non-human objects which form GPS infrastructures. The project uses walking workshops which leverage GPS diagnostic tools to speculate on themes and phenomenologies across such networks.

Image above: Chris Wood, “Walking With Satellites”, 2016, Publicity Shot, Ermoupoli, Greece (Photo by Chris Wood)

Background

GPS technology emerged from a Pentagon-funded research project in the 1970s and spent much of its early life facilitating military operations, most famously in the 1990s when a discourse around targeted ‘surgical strikes’ emerged. Here, missiles fitted with a GPS sensor could be targeted and tracked with a greater degree of accuracy. Civilian uses of the GPS network were operated with deliberately low accuracy until the year 2000 when it was decided to allow civilian users accuracy within 5 metres. In the period since, civilian uses of GPS have increased dramatically, especially since smartphones began to incorporate the technology in the late 2000s. Now ‘location services’, commonly driven by GPS are used in many smartphone apps, either explicitly as part of the service offered by the app (Uber, Yelp) or in the background as a data gathering tool. While we are likely most familiar with these applications, GPS is also used to sync financial trades, predict the weather and track pets, children and criminals. It has, in short, become a key infrastructure in the present socio-economic order.

In technical terms, the GPS system is a collection of satellites, ground antennas and control centres, operated by the US military. A constellation of satellites circles the earth in a series of orbits designed to provide maximum coverage at any given moment. The satellites each contain an atomic clock and constantly emit electromagnetic signals containing a timestamp and satellite ID. A GPS sensor matches these timestamps with an almanac of information about the positions each satellite is supposed to be in. The device then uses these pieces of information to triangulate position. GPS therefore relies on a clear line of sight with multiple satellites to establish a location fix. The ability to provide a fix is also a profoundly temporal operation, for the timestamp system to work, the speed of the signal from satellite to device must be predictable.Environmental factors such as air humidity and reflections as signals strike buildings may slow down signals and throw off a location fix.

These technical elements are typically hidden from the user. Following Mark Weiser’s influential work (1991), most designers intend that the user concentrate on the task itself and not the tool which performs the task. As a result, GPS technology can seem light and odourless when reduced to a flashing, blue, ‘you-are-here’ dot on a map. Walking With Satellites seeks to bring attention back to the infrastructure by leveraging architecture to create an experience where GPS fails, thereby inspiring reflection on the ways in which meaning emerges across the entire network, rather than being concentrated in the hands of the user.

 

Comparative Art Projects

 

Many of the first generation of locative media art projects in the early 2000s (such as Blast Theory’s work or the [murmur] project) were focussed on adding text or sound content to spaces by GPS tagging. These techniques often owed a debt to the concept of detournment proposed by the Situationists in the 1950s and 60s where the city is made new and unfamiliar (Debord 1995; Tuters 2012). Annotating spaces by adding location-specific content has since become a common tactic for commercial apps. Perhaps in response, some more recent art projects have shifted their attention to the technical elements in the infrastructure. Mark Shepard’s Hertzian Rain (2009) comprised an interactive system wherein people wore a set of wireless headphones to stream sound, but also carried umbrellas coated in aluminium foil to disrupt the operation of the wireless network. In an added layer of complexity, the transmission would also distorted in the transmission software, according to a reading of the relative positions of the listeners. This system created unpredictable fluctuations in the ability of listeners to hear the transmission, thereby taking attention away from the primacy of the user/listener to create meaning from the work. The presence of a human body was a distorting agent, as much as something through which meaning was understood. Likewise an object such as a foil-covered umbrella had just as much influence over the emerging sound content.

 

In another project focussed on distortions and breakdown, Nikki Pugh’s Landscape Reactive Sashes (2012-2013) had participants walk with two GPS devices. Owing to differences in site and sensor, each produces slightly different location readings. The readings are compared with a high-quality GPS sensor which has a clear view of the sky and participants are informed when accuracy drops by a vibration on a sash hung over their bodies. The project also produces line-drawings of the routes recorded by each device which demonstrates the differences in the ways each device apprehends and records location. This project again, leverages contingencies in the infrastructure to demonstrate that location is not a given and the processes used to establish it have a particular materiality formed from the nature of the sensor and the interplays between sensor, satellite and site.

 

Method

 

In order to make GPS infrastructure visible I organise walks in architectural sites which have the potential to disrupt its smooth operation. This is usually done by picking spaces which have limited lines of sight with the sky. These include narrow streets or building complexes with covered walkways and underpasses. The walks often take place in collaboration with existing arts programmes and the participants are unpaid volunteers. During the walk, each person is given an android smartphone running an app which reverse-engineers the process of location fixing to show them where the satellites are in relation to them. At present I use a commercially available app, GPS Test, but plan to develop my own version of the app based on the themes which emerge from the workshop process. After walking around the site individually for some time, the attendees reconvene and  draw and write responses to the experience. We then conduct an open-ended discussion. I use what is written, drawn and discussed to establish themes around perceptions of the infrastructure. The participants gain knowledge of how a hidden but essential technology operates and are able to reflect back on that technology’s implications. From the walks to date, the dominant themes have been; ‘surveillance’; ‘interface’; and ‘signal materiality’. Documentation of these walks is included in the appendix.

 

At this point, there are a couple of different uses for the themes. Within my PhD work I am using them as prompts for short-form design workshops. Here my research aim is to use the design process to add another discursive layer to engagement with infrastructure, a kind of “inventive problem making” (Michael 2012), which seeks to pose rather than answer questions. I would also take cues from Bill Gaver’s conception of ‘research-by-design’, understood “a generative discipline, able to create multiple new worlds rather than describing a single existing one” (2012). Art practices have a particular freedom to conduct “thought experiments” (Latour 2004) about the way existing relations can be taken apart and re-arranged. This allows potential to reflect back on existing socio-technical practices and inspire new ones, thereby working to “enrich and not only reduce” (Asdal & Moser 2012) the object of study. These workshops will each be catered to specific themes (surveillance, signal materiality, interface) and will be aimed at design students. It is intended that this exercise can help students to get a new perspective on a familiar technology.

 

A second use of the themes emerging from the workshop is more speculative. Here I am particularly inspired by the possibility of the different object phenomenologies (Bogost 2012) which may exist across the GPS network. The development of this work is ongoing as I conduct interviews with artists, engineers and astrologers. Ultimately I would like to make steps towards a new mythology by which to understand the GPS network and the objects within it, one which is informed by the possibilities of different perceptions of the world. How might satellites perceive space? Is this even the right question, we might also wonder what an orbiting atomic clock could perceive? The collective name for an array of satellites is a constellation. How might we describe such an array of objects in a similar way to how our ancestors described the stars? To date this work has produced a movement workshop where participants are asked to re-imagine themselves as having satellite bodies buffeted by electromagnetic storms. As part of this process I use devices which sonify electromagnetic activity in the cell phone and wifi frequency range. I have also begun to develop a practice called GPS Tarot. I give tarot readings where I arrange cards in a pattern to match the positions of satellites overhead. I then read an active and emotional line on the cards in response to a question. This activity takes place with volunteers both in person and remotely over SMS and whatsapp. The practice is not an attempt to tell the future, but rather to provide space for participants to reflect on the present. It echoes the storytelling and divination potential people have long ascribed to the stars, using them to offer a new perspective on the fundamental role GPS satellites play in telling us stories about where we are on the earth’s surface.

 

References

 

Asdal, Kristin and Moser, Ingunn.2012. “Experiments in Context and Contexting”. Science, Technology and Human Values, 37, 4, 291-306.

 

Bogost, Ian. 2012. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

 

Debord, Guy. 1995. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone

 

Gaver, William. 2012. What Should We Expect From Research Through Design? In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI’12). 937-946.

 

Latour, Bruno (2004). ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik – An Introduction to Making Things Public’ in Making Things Public-Atmospheres of Democracy catalogue of the show at ZKM (edited by Bruno Latour & Peter Weibel). Cambridge. MA: MIT Press.

 

Michael, Mike. 2012. “What Are We Busy Doing?”: Engaging the idiot. In Science, Technology & Human Values, 37,5: 528-554.

 

Tuters, Marc. 2012. From Mannerist Situationism to Situated Media. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 18(3). 267–282.

 

Weiser, Mark. (1991) “The Computer for the 21st Century”. Scientific American, 265(3): 94–104.

Chris Wood, “Walking With Satellites”, 2016, Workshop, London (Photo by Chris Wood)

Chris Wood, “Walking With Satellites”, 2016, Visual Workshop Data, London (Photo by Chris Wood)

Chris Wood, “Walking With Satellites”, 2016, Workshop, London (Photo by Chris Wood)

Chris Wood, “Walking With Satellites”, 2016, Visual Workshop Data, Fengersfors, Sweden (Photo by Chris Wood)

Chris Wood, “GPS Tarot”, 2016, Tarot Reading, Wettzell, Germany (Photo by Katrin Savvulidi)

Chris Wood, “GPS Tarot”, 2016, Tarot Reading, Brooklyn (Photo by Chris Wood)

Views from Paradise (Amber Eve Anderson)

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Applying the principles of psychogeography to the digital landscape, Views from Paradise uses language as a means to subvert our understanding of place (i.e. paradise) and insert poetics into modern methods of navigation (i.e. Google Maps).

Image above: Amber Eve Anderson, Initial Google Search of the word “Paradise,” 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

Location: Google Maps/Paradise
Date/Duration: Ongoing

Context

Technological leaps over the past decade have put dislocation at the forefront of daily experience. The Internet has become a place in which we can travel everywhere without going anywhere. With definitions and directions at our fingertips, digital technology is significantly altering the ways in which we primarily experience place and the real world. Google Maps, specifically, has had a major impact on the ways in which we explore new places. Rather than inserting oneself into an existing landscape, as with paper maps, we have become the dot in the middle of a digital map constructed around us. This has a profound impact on the way we conceptualize ourselves in terms of the spaces we inhabit, as well as how we navigate those places. We are constantly locating ourselves, but we don’t really know where we are.

“Views from Paradise” builds upon the historical precedent of psychogeography, which is the study of the geographical environment on one’s behaviors and emotions. Guy Debord believed there should be non-linear strategies for exploring cities that would remove pedestrians from day-to-day routines and cause them to consider the urban landscape anew. In “Theory of the Dérive,” (dérive meaning “drift” in French), Debord encouraged pedestrians to navigate urban terrain by impulses resulting from the observation of one’s surroundings. Debord’s investigations took visual form in non-traditional maps that spliced urban centers into disconnected pieces, strung together by meandering, roundabout arrows. Navigation and walking itself became fertile territory for exploration. Artists like Richard Long and Hamish Fulton turned to walking as a means of art-making—although usually in natural, rather than urban, landscapes—in which language and photography serve as documents of these journeys.

While “Views from Paradise” is rooted in the physical, it also occupies the space of the digital, as well as the imagined, in order to provide a new awareness of the interplay between these landscapes. Similarly, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s series of walks exist in the space where the physical, digital and imagined converge in a single setting. In these walks, videos play on handheld devices, parts of which were recorded in the same physical spaces, while the accompanying audio directs the path of the viewer through and beyond the space in which they stand. The depicted space of a train station overlaps with the physical as passersby cross through both places; meanwhile, the audio directs the viewer through the space while talking of memories and other associations.

“Views from Paradise” questions the inherent limitation of Google Maps upon one’s impulse to explore. It is a technological device that offers step-by-step directions from one location to another dependent upon a few established variables, such as traffic, time and tolls. When used as a navigational tool, one is less likely to get lost or to encounter the unexpected. While other digital navigation tools exist, such as Yelp, Instagram or any multitude of newly released, lesser known apps, these are all dependent upon the screen and specified results. Most will ultimately end in a list of directions. “Views from Paradise” disrupts the usual way of encountering new places. By using Google Maps as an interface and a means of exploration, itself located within a browser (browsing as a new way of looking), an idea—paradise—is the starting point rather than a destination being the end result.

Amber Eve Anderson, Directions from “My location” to “Paradise,” 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

The word paradise represents a place of perfection or escape. The word conjures images of sunsets and beach escapes. An initial Google search of the word yielded a row of these types of images, a song by Coldplay, a 2013 movie, a Wikipedia entry and an image of Google Maps with various pins and business names. Using Google Maps as a means to locate physical places of business that use the word “paradise” in their name, roots the conceptual in the physical. It conflates a utopian ideal with a physical reality.

Maps themselves are abstractions of real space. From a conceptual framework, through a digital interface, we arrive at a physical location. From “My location” in Baltimore, MD—through a window that displays Google Maps on my computer screen—I discover Paradise Nails, Paradise Inn, Caribbean Paradise. By physically traveling to these locations, I am able to document the view from within these establishments, a view otherwise absent from Google Maps. My camera points through physical window frames to portray actual streets. The implication of redirecting the gaze, looking out rather than looking in, is to regain awareness of possibility—the realm beyond that which is documented by Google Maps. I return these images to the space of the browser by uploading them to Google Maps where they are publicly available. There, anyone with an internet connection searching for paradise may come across one of these images, where it will join a growing archive of this alternate perspective as I travel home to my native Nebraska and up and down the East Coast to search for paradise in New York, DC and Philadelphia. The search itself becomes an unseen performance. It is a quiet, poetic, subversive means to critique contemporary methods of navigation. It is a new way to navigate digital space and to inspire exploration beyond the linear.

Amber Eve Anderson, Paradise locations in Baltimore, MD according to Google Maps, 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

Amber Eve Anderson, Caribbean Paradise on Google Maps, 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

Amber Eve Anderson, Google Street View of Caribbean Paradise, 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

Amber Eve Anderson, Image taken from inside Caribbean Paradise publicly uploaded to Google Maps, 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

 

By uploading images captured from the physical locations of these establishments to Google Maps, the project becomes a conflation of the real, the digital and the imagined. Using Google Maps as an interface and the word “paradise” as a means of navigation, it upsets the usual expectations of encounter and exploration. Furthermore, it builds an alternate archive of the idea of paradise as it is now understood. This challenges the relationship between a word, a location and an idea, as well as one’s relationship to those things and the way one navigates those spaces.

“Views from Paradise” creates new knowledge for navigating space in the digital era and exposes the divide between actual experience and virtual experience. It is in line with contemporary work like David Horvitz’s “241543903,” in which he uploaded an image of a person with their head in a freezer tagged with said number alongside instructions to do the same. Now, when 241543903 is googled, countless images of people with their heads in freezers result. Similarly, Miranda July’s “Somebody” app connects people with strangers who deliver face-to-face messages via app users physically close to them in proximity. These two works specifically set a precedent for upsetting the usual means of interaction with the digital world. Like “Views from Paradise,” these projects question the role of the internet in everyday life.

Amber Eve Anderson, Google Maps fails to find Paradise, 2016, Screen Capture, Baltimore, MD

 

In my multidisciplinary practice, I combine objects, images and environments with poetic dialogues to expose the divide between the digital and the real. Deliberate and contemplative, it illustrates the placelessness of uprooted existence—of being in between, not there, nowhere—as I search for stability and tangible points of reference.  My work is an exercise in orientation as I attempt to order my displacement.

The growing archive of “Views from Paradise” can be found here:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1UEbfiEnWU9B9mVY5_yZ5HL_r6hI&usp=sharing.

 

References

Cardiff, Janet and George Bures-Miller. “Walks.” Janet Cardiff George Bures Miller, http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/walks/index.html. Accessed November 11, 2016.

Debord, Guy. “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.” The Library at nothingness.org,  http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/2. Accessed August 26, 2016.

Jeffries, Adrianne. “People on the Internet Put Their Heads in the Freezer.” Observer, 26 Jan. 2011, http://observer.com/2011/01/people-on-the-internet-put-their-heads-in-the-freezer/. Accessed August 26, 2016.

July, Miranda. “Somebody.” Miranda July, 28 Aug. 2014, http://www.mirandajuly.com/#somebody-2. Accessed August 26, 2016.

Typographic Landscape Ecologies: Alameda, California, USA (Joshua Singer)

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Typographic Landscape Ecologies is an ongoing project that documents, maps, and visualizes typographic artifacts in the urban landscape as a way to explore cultural forces in the constructed world.

Location: Alameda, California, USA (37.765, -122.2396)
Primary research: May–August 2017
Ongoing online publication of results and analysis: August 2017–ongoing

Joshua Singer
Associate Professor, School of Design, San Francisco State University
jsinger@sfsu.edu

This project began with the educational group DesignIquiry as an exploration into the UNESCO Design City Berlin in August 2013 and then Detroit as part of a residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) in October through December 2014. This project discovered nascent connections between the ontology of the graphic artefacts in the landscape and the socio-cultural forces of gentrification. A workshop of its methodologies was then conducted at the International Cartographic Association commissions on Art & Cartography and on Maps and Society, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August 2015. In this workshop, the documentation and mapping of specific ecologies of graphic artefacts in the landscape indicated different cultural regions and their boundaries and a hypothesis of the flows between them.

Backstory: Semiotic Landscapes

These projects presuppose a model of a semiotic landscape; a complex multi‐dimensional text or collection of texts. It is a model of landscape as an ecology of discernable semiotic units that define a concept of a geographic space. It is a landscape as a collection of symbolically mediated phenomena understood only through cognition and representation. It is a system of signs “… diverse landscape phenomena [that] are thought to form a coherent systemic whole in which each of the elements is related to each other and where individual signs can be combined into sequences according to certain codes.” (Kull, K., Lindström, K., & Palang, H., 2014, p114) The typographic elements of the urban landscape form, through their invisible connections to the greater world of meaning, a network—an ecology–that constructs geographic space as real as its material forms. The typographic elements combine to form a complex and indeterminate whole—a gestalt—that defines the cultural landscape of geographic space to its occupants. This is similar to a piece of music; a systemic whole comprised of individual elements of interrelated sounds, tones, rhythms, and silences, which are also symbolically mediated through human cognition and representation.

Backstory: Experimental Research

These projects use conventional research as a means to authoritatively document the landscape in an attempt to reveal patterns and relationships. These projects use experimental methods as a foil to the authority of conventional research as a way to generate speculative conclusions. Speculative conclusions are an important form of the creative process. Imprecise and questionable associations generate new semantic connections and new forms of thinking and knowledge. (Lotman, 2000) The illumination of new knowledge is the ultimate goal of research and so we can assume that subjective and illegitimate conclusions have value by revealing something not yet known. The work of the radical architecture groups Superstudio and Archigram, the design fictions of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, and the iconoclastic maps of Denis Woods offer examples of the ability of working data into new syntaxes, into alternative and speculative narratives that can offer glimpses of other potentialities. In my own work this is demonstrated by the visual cross-referencing of aesthetic ecologies and cultural vectors, their overlay onto three-dimensional virtual environments comprised of layers of historical maps that encourage us to read between the lines or layers of a cultural-semiotic space. This does not offer concrete answers, but rather poses new and unexpected questions.

Typographic Landscape Ecologies: Next Steps

For Project Anywhere, Typographic Landscape Ecologies will continue the research trajectory explored in Rio de Janeiro in Alameda California for a period of 4 months and then continue to publish its findings as analyses and hypotheses ongoing into the future. For this project, a specific four-block area–a cultural geographic node–will be examined. Every typographic artifact within this node will be photographed and geolocated on a map. The data will be categorized, coded, and organized into matrices that express progressions of quality and manufacture/creation, groupings of stylistic forms, and connections of cultural codes and meanings. This will be available via an online map and will: be contextualized within historical geography and phenomena by layering historical maps in GIS (geographic information systems); examine meaning at the macro and micro level of the urban landscape; examine visual-cultural cues of the typographic forms; create hypotheses of urban language and the city as a semiotic ecology. The hypotheses presuppose that there are threads that connect, semiotically, the past to the present and that these connections can be indicated by typographic artefacts in the urban landscape. The project will try and find these connections through the examination of vectors, patterns, forces, and agents within the landscape such as transportation, zoning, services, property value, and racial and economic demographics. Exactly what interrelations are revealed remains to be seen.

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Selected Examples of Previous work                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Joshua Singer “Center & Periphery & Flows in Maracanã (detail), 2015. Still image of georeferenced photos and 3D models in Google Earth. Virtual landscape of the Maracanã neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil containing geolocated typographic artifacts and dimensional semiotic indicators.

Joshua Singer “Center & Periphery & Flows in Maracanã (detail), 2015. Still image of georeferenced photos and study vectors in Google Maps. Study map of the Maracanã neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil containing geolocated typographic artifacts and regions of semiotic activity.

Joshua Singer, Ad-Hoc Atlas Version 2, Vol 1 Including Montréal and Berlin (Detail), 2013. Diagram for the Graphic Code and the Metro-Polis demonstrating the semiotic unconscious of the urban landscape.

Joshua Singer, Ad-Hoc Atlas Version 2, Vol 1 Including Montréal and Berlin (Detail), 2013. A speculative map of the semiotic unconscious of Montréal.

Joshua Singer, Ad-Hoc Atlas Version 2, Vol 1 Including Montréal and Berlin (Detail), 2013. Prototype #01.0 Semiospheric Metabolic Reader Output (samples); a speculative monument that reads the vernacular typographic artifacts of the city.

Joshua Singer, Typographic Typologies Detroit (Detail), at MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), 2014. Georeferenced photos of typographic artifacts in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.

Joshua Singer, Typographic Typologies Detroit (Detail), at MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), 2014. Open wall installation of analysis exercise of typographic artifacts in.

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References

 

Corner, James. “Terra Fluxus.” In The Landscape Urbanism Reader, edited by Charles Waldheim, 21–33. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Dunne, A., and F. Raby. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. MIT Press, 2013.

Flusser, Vilém. “The Designer’s Glance.” Design Issues 11, no. 3 (1995): 53–55.

Franzato, Carlo. “Design as Speculation.” Design Philosophy Papers, renew, repair, research, 2011, no. 1 (January 2011).

Kull, Kalevi. “Semiotic Ecology: Different Natures in the Semiosphere.” Sign Systems Studies 26 (1998): 344–71.

Kull, Kalevi, Kati Lindström, and Hannes Palang. “Landscape Semiotics: Contribution to Culture Theory.” In Estonian Approaches to Culture Theory, edited by Kalevi Kull and Valter Lang, 110–32. Tartu: University of Tartu Press, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11557974/Landscape_semiotics.

Lotman, Y.M. Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Translated by A. Shukman. The Second World Series. Indiana University Press, 2000.

Nöth, Winfried. “Yuri Lotman on Metaphors and Culture as Self-Referential Semiospheres.” Semiotica 2006, no. 161 (January 1, 2006). doi:10.1515/SEM.2006.065.

van der Velden, Daniel. “Research & Destroy.” Metropolis M, April 2006. http://metropolism.com/magazine/2006-no2/research-destroy/english.

On Drawing (Ana Mendes)

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On Drawing is a research and artistic project that establishes a connection between thinking and drawing in the realms of arts and science. It was initiated in 2014 when I met Mina Pegourie (the housemaid of an art residency that I attended in France). Mina is originally from Morocco, but has been living in France since the age of 12. During my stay I developed a special affinity with her, despite having only met her two or three times over my whole residency period of 1.5 months. One day in particular, she came to my studio and showed me her address book. Since she is unable to read or write, her address book is composed simply of contact numbers alongside corresponding drawings. I became fascinated by the beauty and simplicity of her drawings, together with the logic behind her methods as a survival tool. Thus, I recorded a video in which she presents the drawings in her address book together with the story behind each one. Afterwards, I held several drawing sessions in which I asked her to draw different elements from geometrical forms to standard objects, and I filmed the whole process. I was interested to see how she would react to a simple drawing activity as well as the mental and physical consequences of working to a certain specified goal. Above image: Ana Mendes, On Drawing, 2016, HD, color, stereo, 09:53, Stuttgart (DE) © Ana Mendes

Mina Pegourie, Canary, pencil on paper, 2014, 14,8 x 5, 8 cm, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (FR) © Mina Pegourie

After filming this work, I decided to develop a project that aims at establishing a connection between thinking and drawing, collaborating with people from different fields, from scientists to artists, ordinary citizens or children. Recently, I edited the film, which is now being shown in festivals, galleries and other such exhibition venues. At the same time, I am undertaking research to develop a performance-lecture based on drawing, as well as a series of exhibitions. The results of my research have been, partially, uploaded to the blog On Drawing, in which I publish short articles on related issues. Some of the topics that I have developed address the connections between drawing and neuroscienceneuroplasticity, the extended cognition, the children’s case and the philosophy of pictures, among others.  There are also contributions by other researchers on this blog, such as Gavin Steingo (USA), who problematises the question of ‘Drawing as more than one’ – what happens when a pregnant woman draws? Who or what is drawing?

Simone Rueß Contact, 2016, colored paper on pencil, 14.8 x 21 cm, Germany, © Simone Rueß

Aside from the online publication, the outcome of this project will be the making of my performance-lecture ‘On Drawing’, in which I will share the results of my research, together with some drawing exercises to audience members. Finally, I will organise a series of exhibitions on this subject, in which different people – from artists to scientists or ordinary citizens – will be invited to take part. These exhibitions are to take place in Graz, London, Vienna and Berlin.

Methodology

In the first phase, the project draws on independent research to create the foundations of the project. This research is mostly theoretical, involving different sources of bibliography and interviews with neuroscientists. In a second phase, the research will acquire a theoretical-practical tone, in which different people will be interviewed and asked to contribute to the project, by stating the terms in which they use drawing as a research tool, and providing some samples. Finally, in the last phase, the project will be open to everyone who wishes to take part. Potential contributors will be invited to submit a drawing and statement that show how they use drawing as a thinking tool. These drawings will be used as part of the project, in upcoming exhibitions, uploaded on the blog, with previous consent of the owners.

Mina Pegourie, Geometric Forms, 2014, pencil on paper, 14,8 x 5, 8 cm, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (FR) © Mina Pegourie

Context/abstract:
On drawing

Drawing is a common tool used by artists, scientists, technicians, ordinary people and even children. Many people use drawing as a thinking process, in order to find a solution for everyday problems – whether they are technicians such as architects, plumbers or choreographers, or are artists, entertainers, or healers using drawing as a therapeutic skill such as social workers, doctors, etc. Nevertheless, artists are probably the only ones who use drawing as a process (. i.e. a tool to think) and also as a product (i.e. art to exhibit). Thus, science has have become increasingly interested in the ways in which artists think through drawing. In science, drawing is usually perceived as a visualisation skill. Scientists convert data into drawings in order to quantity/visualise the results of their research, as it helps to get a clearer picture. In the artistic field, on the contrary, drawing is a tool to get inspiration and to generate new ideas.

Jean-Baptiste Joly Untitled, 2016, rollerball, pencil and tipp-ex, 17 x 22 cm, Stuttgart (DE) © Jean-Baptiste Joly

Similar to walking, drawing has an impact on the brain, stimulating lateral thinking. Besides, when we draw the hand is connected with the brain through the nervous system, contributing to the process of generating knowledge. As Antonio Damasio proved in his book [1]Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, the brain isn’t the sole decision-maker, as Renes Descartes had stipulated in the precept ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, because the body contributes to the process of decision-making. That is to say that the body experiences emotions that are later communicated to the brain through the nervous system.

Jimmy Kosolovsky, A walk to a gallery, 2016, colored pencil and ink on paper, 17,5 x 14 cm, Paris (FR) © Jimmy Kololovsky

Accordingly to neuroscience, our brain is in constant mutation, and its capacities can be improved through different activities, such as drawing, regardless of our age or genetic composition. The brain’s plasticity occurs in different stages: at the beginning of life, as a consequence of brain injury and in adulthood, and every time we learn something new. Indeed, one of the most surprising aspects of neuroplasticity is that, when we become an expert in something (e.g. learn a new language), the area of the brain that has to deal with that skill grows (and the others diminish). As Dr. Luis Lacerda, researcher from the Natbrainlab (UK), who specialises in neuroimaging, clarified in an interview: ‘There is process called pruning, in which the neurons that are not being used are pruned… But, the volume of the brain is limited; therefore if one part becomes bigger, another one needs to diminish.’

Moreover, different studies suggest that artistic training may impact the structure of the brain – evidence on this matter was already found in different professions, such as [2]musicians and taxi drivers[3].

Jimmy Kosolovsky, Map for the Campo Theatre, 2015, ink on paper, 17,5 x 14 cm, Ghent (BE) © Jimmy Kololovsky

Nonetheless, only recently someone dedicated an exploratory study to the specific case of visual artists – Dr. Rebecca Chamberlain from the KU, Leuven (BE), conducted the research ‘[4]Drawing at the right side of the brain’, which aimed at analysing the impact of developing a visual skill in artists onto the structure of the brain. The study was developed with students from Swansea Metropolitan University, Wales, and Royal College of Arts, London, between 2008 and 2011. The results of the study point to the same conclusions already found in other communities:‘[5]observational drawing ability relates to changes in structures pertaining to fine motor control and procedural memory, and that artistic training in addition is associated with enhancement of structures pertaining to visual imagery’. Thus, drawing may influence the composition of the brain, as well as increasing long-term memory. As we know, the brain is divided in two separate areas – the left and the right hemisphere, which are interconnected, but play different cognitive roles. The left side is associated with logic, language, science and decision-making. The right hemisphere commands intuition, imagination, emotions and creativity. As Dr. Luis Lacerda clarifies: ‘It is proved that there is reorganisation in the brain. Depending on the stimulus – be it visual or audio –- there is a transformation – neuroplasticity. This change happens daily in each of us, but on a small scale. The long-term change that affects the structure of the brain depends on genetic factors, ambient, but usually takes more time to verify’.

Nevertheless, today, we live in a world that is increasingly digital and visual; we perform less and less physical activities, such as drawing or writing. Thus, this change will affect the structure of the brain, as well as our ability to assimilate and process information. Several studies made with resonance magnetic imaging (MRI) show that handwriting may contribute to a better fine-motor skill development. For instance, in 2014, Karin Harman James, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Indiana University, conducted the study ‘[6]The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children’. The results suggest that the neural activity of children who practise handwriting is far more developed and adult than the other ones. Thus, computers are commonly blamed by diminishing children’s learning ability and memory. Although some people also point out the role that iPads play in learning languages, the skills are different, as selecting a letter is different from manually drawing it. Nevertheless, the role played by electronic devices in the cognitive process has changed over the recent decades, as a consequence of the digital culture in which we live.

Leon Bruno Rueß, Apple with pips, a pod and a circle with a line and a dot, 2016, ink on paper, 29.61 x 20.9 cm, Stuttgart (DE) © Leon Bruno Rueß

Nevertheless, we know, from different studies undertaken over time, that human brain evolves accordingly to the context, in which we live. That is how, in broad terms, human evolution has been processed, since pre-history. As Bruce Wexler explains:

[7]The most fundamental difference between the human brain and those of other mammals is the greater extent to which the development of its structure and function is influenced by sensory input’.

Thus, perhaps the first distinction that needs to be made deals with the concept of the mind. Hence, and although most people commonly associate the brain with the skull, thinking is an integrated activity, which involves the body, and some argue that external objects are actively used during the thinking process and even the environment. As was already explained through the studies of Antonio Damasio, the brain is not the sole decision-maker, as the body plays a role in the cognitive process. Damasio conducted clinical studies of brain lesions in patients whose emotions were impaired due to cancer, accidents and other forms of trauma. While these patients measured well in intelligence tests, they were unable to make decisions, in spite of emotional trauma. Thus, this proved that the body is not the sole decision-maker, and that body and brain are a coupled system.

Jean-Baptiste Joly, Untitled, 2016, photography of a loose paper collage, 9 x 9 cm, Lausanne (CH) © Jean-Baptiste Joly

What is more, Andy Clarke and David Chambers took the concept of the mind further in 1998, in their seminal paper‘[8]The Extended Mind’, in which they claim that external objects might be part of the mind, in case they are actively used to think. They give as an example the case of two friends who want to arrive at the museum. The first one relies on his memory to find the place. The second one, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, has the help of his notebook, where he stores the address. Hence, the notebook can be seen as a hard drive, that accomplishes the same role of the biological memory. Hence, it should be perceived as being part of the mind. Besides, not only patients who suffer from neurological diseases might think through/with artefacts, as also ordinary people might follow the same procedure. Clark and Chambers give the example of the scrabble game, in which a player can complete words by mentally rotating the pieces of the game; working on the computer, pressing keys; or physically rotating the parts of the game. Thus, if the first gesture is perceived as intellectual, so should the other ones, as the artefacts are actively part of the thinking process. The Parity Principle coined by the duo establishes that if one object performs an activity that is perceived as being mental, it should be part of the mind of the user.

Jean-Baptiste Joly, Untitled, 2016, paper, pencil and rollerball on paper, 17 x 22 cm, Stuttgart (DE) © Jean-Baptiste Joly

Nonetheless, one might intuitively oppose this idea, because if the objects are part of the mind, the brain is the centre of it, thus, it does not play an equal role. Obviously, objects are not able to generate knowledge by themselves. Moreover, visualisation skills are part of what we perceive to be intelligence, and well-known geniuses are recognised for having enhanced abstraction skills, which did not depend on external factors. On the other hand, it is also common knowledge that external factors play an increasing role in all aspects of contemporary societies, which seem to be more and more volatile, and permeable to change. Thus, perhaps, one needs to change the criteria through which we look at events. For instance, in ‘[9]How do we think’, USA researcher Katherine Hayles considers that not only is the mind composed of the brain-body and external objects, as a coupled system, it also extends itself in the environment. As she pictures it:

‘The more one works with digital technologies, the more one comes to appreciate the capacity of networked and programmable machines to carry out sophisticated cognitive tasks, the more the keyboard comes to seem one extension of one’s thoughts rather than an external device on which one types. Embodiment then takes the form of extended cognition, in which human agency and thought are enmeshed within larger networks that extend beyond the desktop computer into environment’

Finally, digital culture also raises philosophical questions in regard to the connection between image and words in contemporary society. Ludwig Wittgenstein has suggested in his book [10]‘Philosophical Investigations’ that images are somehow subservient of words, in the sense that we only know the meaning of an image because we have learnt it before through words. For instance, if someone shows a picture of a bird, we know what it stands for, because we learned the word bird, in written or oral speech. Nevertheless, in online communication, the images are used as unique signifiers, alienated from the words. They become somehow online symbols or voids, without any reference to the real world. Hence, the question arises: What happens to human communication in this world of alienated images? How does it impact our thinking process?

Obviously, there is no right answer to this question, as the effects of the digital culture are not seen on a deep level in human nature. But, if the brain is always shifting its functions, it is perhaps arguable that it will reconfigure itself, incorporating the needs of the digital culture. As Dr. Luis Lacerda states, the consequences of the digital culture ‘is something that we probably won’t be able to see in this generation, but for sure, the habits that we have today will change our species.’

[1] Damasio, Antonio, Descartes’ Error (New York: Avon Books, 1994), p. 250

[2] Gaser, C. & Schlaug, G., ‘Brain structures differ between musicians and non- musicians’. Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 9240-9245 (2003)

[3] Maguire, E. A., Gadian, D. G., Johnsrude, I. S., Good, C. D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S. J. et al. (2000). Navigation-related structural changes in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97, 4398-4403

[4] Chamberlain et al, ‘Drawing on the right side of the brain: a voxel-based morphometry analysis of observational drawing’, NeuroImage, vol. 96, pp. 167-173, 2014

[5] [Published in Trends in Neuroscience and Education 1(1):32-42, 2012]

[7] Wexler, Bruce (2014), ‘Shaping the Environments that Shape Our Brains: A Long Term Perspective’, in Cognitive Architecture Designing Respond Environment (pp. 142-167). New York: Routledge

[8] [Published in Analysis 58:10-23, 1998. Reprinted in (p. Grim, ed) The Philosophers Annual, vol XXI, 1998.]

[9] Hayles, Katherine, How do We Think (Chicago and London : The University of Chicago Press, 2012), p. 3

[10] Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations (West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009)

 

 

#exstrange (Marialaura Ghidini and Rebekah Modrak, curators)

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#exstrange is a curatorial project in the form of an artistic intervention into the world of capitalism that seeks to transform eBay into a site of artistic production and cultural exchange.

#exstrange is live here: http://www.exstrange.com

#exstrange uses the online marketplace eBay as a site of curatorial operation, artistic production and cultural exchange within the geographical boundaries enabled by the platform itself. #exstrange is a series of “artworks as auctions” created for eBay, using the entire listing as material. Descriptive text, images, pricing, and categories are tools used to build the artwork. Exhibited on eBay for 7 days, these site-specific artworks are each posted and maintained by their creators so that bidder interactions and comments are incorporated in real time as part of the work. As a live exhibition project, #exstrange utilizes and responds to the specificity of the spaces within the e-commerce service (eBay categories) and explores how to create meaningful encounters between artists and their audiences, and between passers-by and artworks. The curators invite artists, designers and researchers to use this online space to develop new strategies of production and communication.

#exstrange began with Ghidini and Modrak’s curatorial invitation to 21 artists to launch a 7-day artwork/auction beginning, sequentially, on January 15, 2017. The next stage of the show starts on February 5, 2017 when guest curators based across the globe invite three artists each to participate in the exhibition. The show, connecting auctions through use of the tag #exstrange in the title, is now expanding in multiple ways, engineered to extend the exhibition beyond the curators’ direct agency. Any artist, designer or eBay account holder may post an auction by using the tag #exstrange and by following the set of instructions posted on the exhibition website.

#exstrange asks:

How can contemporary networked e-commerce services be appropriated to create a space for artistic production and engagement?

How can the online marketplace be used to promote forms of collaboration, process-based practices, and community interventions that are often marginalized by the art system of galleries, museums and biennales?

#exstrange comes from the working title Exchange with Stranger, influenced by Georg Simmel’s understanding of the “stranger,” a role characterized by nearness and remoteness; the stranger enters into a community with the ability to perceive entrenched dynamics with new eyes (Simmel). #exstrange artists and designers will seek out eBay communities clustered around categorical experiences and pose auctions as engagement. #exstrange welcomes serendipitous encounters with exchange-partners from across geographic, cultural and political regions.

STRUCTURE OF THE PROJECT

Unlike the some 3.5 million pieces of traditional art for sale on eBay, the artworks in #exstrange utilize the methods and systems of eBay as elements in their artwork. Artists use eBay’s existing categories, such as Real Estate, Healthcare, Agriculture, and Personal Security, as site-specific contexts that ‘host’ particular communities of interest beyond physical barriers. In an #exstrange auction, the entire listing (item for sale, descriptive text, keywords, pricing, imagery, and category placement) comprises the artwork so that the full work exists only within the venue of the online marketplace.

Inspired by participatory democracy and open-source models, this exhibition uses and builds on the pre-existing networks within eBay (such as the communities formed through categories, the rating system for monitoring buyers/sellers, and the comments) to create opportunity for reflection, declaration, questioning, nonsense, analysis, and evocation, expanding the potential for participation. The audience—viewers who seek out the show, potential buyers, and happen-chance browsers—can inquire into ideas proposed through the auctions/artworks by commenting directly on the listing, or by creating and posting their own auction. Serendipitous encounters are significant to our interests in extending art practice outside the confines of the gallery into spaces where ideas and provocative encounters take precedence over the mechanisms involved in formally exhibiting Art.

#exstrange is disseminated and supported by a website (http://www.exstrange.com) that offers an interactive mapping of the auctions and listings, the geographical locations of the artworks—the items for sale, their destinations, and exchanges between the artists and their audience. Images and text provide a visible reflection on the exchanges taking place on eBay.com, and hint at the often hidden transactions happening within the art world. A print catalog documents the artworks and exhibition, and contextualizes the show with essays on the relationship between contemporary art and commerce, also taking into consideration the changes brought about by digital technology, and the web as a source of information and a space for exchanges.

CONTEXT

Olga Goriunova (Goriunova, 8) points to the history of “platform” as an organizational structure for political activity and revolution that emphasizes collective work, and “encourages inclusivity” through setting up alternative systems for sharing resources. Before the advent of the Internet, art groups such as the New York Correspondence School, the International Mail Art Network, the Nouveau Realistes, and Fluxus enacted Goriunova’s idea of platform by taking advantage of communication technologies like the postal system as paths for sharing ideas, activism, and aesthetics. These practices were rooted in life-affirming, utopian principles that aspired to facilitate equitable representation and involvement in all media. #exstrange advances the idealism of this vision by utilizing online commerce as a tool for interconnection, shared interests, social responsibility and exchange. Just as mail art used the postal system as a platform to create a new art world beyond the boundaries of conventional art structures, we see eBay as an economical platform offering artists access to worldwide networking potential. Where mail art inherently involved a degree of privacy in exchanges between individual and individual, #exstrange’s collective action and use of social media encourages open participation and inclusivity, proposing a new direction for “correspondence” work based on the current mass communication system, the Internet.

 

In the early 21st century, the vision of the platform was reconceived through the web interface, which became the space of the encounter between the machine and the human (Ghidini; Andersen and Pold). Curatorial and artistic interventions into established web platforms and services, through playing with the role of the interface, have the potential to disrupt existing systems of value and production of knowledge. According to Goriunova, online art platforms that adopt the form and format of the database (an archival interface), such as Runme.org (2003) and CuratingYouTube.net (2007), allow for a redefinition of meanings and values through the creation of new taxonomic systems and modes of categorisations triggered by collective action (Goriunova). Through the creation of a system of classification based on categories suggested by members, administrators and users submit artworks to generate a “collective enunciation of software art” (Runme.org). Or, by allowing users to aggregate video material in a grid using the associational classification common in the vernacular of social media platforms, CuratingYouTube.org promotes new forms for fostering “cultural practices.” (Miranda) Rather than creating virtual spaces of objects, or for the display of objects controlled by a curator, these projects focused on forming communities online that, through their behaviours and choices, question established systems of interpretation and understanding. Similarly, #exstrange, by becoming a parasitic extension of a commercial database, generates a new type of encounter between the machine and the human (the online commercial service and the buyer), starting with the very questioning of its system of categories, ratings, and exchange.

The transparency and unbound distribution that the internet offered to art practitioners in the early 1990’s, evident in interdisciplinary communities devoted to promoting art practices and discourses of The Thing (1991), Nettime (1995), and irational (1996), has been increasingly disappearing. In the 1990s, artists working on the net often played with the rules of the art market by creating websites as if they were a gallery specifically dedicated to net.art such as Olia Lialina’s Art.Teleportacia (1999) or as collaborative platforms based on participation such as Desktop.is by Alexei Shulgin (1998). However, recent models of distribution based on gatekeeping, such as sales and auctions of editionable web-based work, have been created for the Internet to re-propose closed commercial models of the market. Online auction houses such as Puddle8 (2012) — funded by a consortium of private investment and asset management firms — as well as services for collectors such as s[edition] (2012) do not cultivate new models of circulation and engagement, even if they present themselves as places that “aim to establish the next generation of contemporary artists” or as channels through which “collecting and exchanging art at accessible prices,” respectively. #exstrange aims to challenge the rhetoric of high-end niche luxury culture by taking inspiration from the strategies that Howard Becker identified in “maverick” artists (Becker, 1982), that is, the conscious rejection of conventional organization and practices of the art world in order to assert creative freedom, independent of market forces.

With #exstrange, the curators hope to give life to an “alternative exhibition configuration” (Lichty, 2002) that will supersede the mode of the production of culture proposed by the museum, a mode “determined by oligarchic hegemony issuing forth from centers of capitalist, academic, and political power” which enforces a “’top-down’ approach to culture.” The project aims to achieve this by giving up full “curatorial control.” By setting up a system that is self-generative (Cox and Krysa, 2000), #exstrange extends the legacy of projects like the above-mentioned Runme.org (2003) but also of Surf Clubs (collaborative artist-run blogs responding to contemporary digital culture and vernacular), such as Nasty Nets (2006). Further, #exstrange taps into the infrastructure of the commercial web, allowing the curators to investigate the contemporary cultural moment related to a neoliberal commercial system through exchanges — geographical and personal — between the seller/buyer, artist/viewer, and trickster/reviewer. The documentation of such exchanges, unavailable on many other web-based practices such as Surf Clubs, provides research for future practitioners and scholars.

The studio for the cultural jammer is the world at large” (Negativland).

Handelman and Kozinets (2004) described culture jamming as “an organized, social activist effort to counter the bombardment of consumption-oriented messages in the media.” The project #exstrange exerts a spirit of self-determination into the consumer cultural industry of eBay. We see #exstrange as a vehicle operating in the lineage of Negativland’s definition of “culture jamming,” as an interventionist activity that lays bare the fixedness of eBay’s original commercial strategy by supplanting those imperatives with new rationales. #exstrange fosters play within the confines of marketing strategy; play is an alternative form of critique and generates diverse modes of practice. #exstrange views the vast spaces of eBay as a playground of collective engagement, allowing each participant to direct us to a specific site,–say, Medical Supplies, for their action. As a web-based practice, #exstrange has the potential to bring together people not based in the same community, to transcend spatial geography, and to subvert cultural hierarchy. As a stowaway on a platform designed for commerce, #exstrange redirects the exchange from one of simple capital to one of cultural capital, through the flow of ideas and paradigms, and in place of goods and currency.

 LINKS

#exstrange is live here: http://www.exstrange.com

Join #exstrange at: [we’ll provide this link once the website is ready]

#exstrange is funded by the Center for South Asian Studies and the Stamps School of Art & Design, both at the University of Michigan.

PROJECT CURATORS:

Marialaura Ghidini is an art curator and researcher. She was the founder director of or-bits.com a curatorial web-based platform that supported the development, production and distribution of contemporary artworks and writing online and offline. She is faculty and course leader of the Bachelor’s course in Experimental Media Arts at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology and programmes director at T-A-J Residency in Bangalore, India

Rebekah Modrak is an artist and writer. She is the creator of Re Made Co., which uses recreation to parody the rhetoric around designer tools and the appropriation of working class identities, and the author of “Bougie Crap,” which analyzes the links between design, education, corporate culture and the appropriation of symbols of Detroit. She is Associate Professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.

FEATURED ARTISTS AND AUCTIONS (DATES):

IOCOSE (15 January) / Tara Kelton (16 January) / Maeve O’Neill (16 January) /  Lloyd Corporation (17 January) / John D. Freyer (18 January), Sreshta Rit Premnath (19 January) / Matt Kenyon  (20 January) / Linda Kronman & Andreas Zingerle — KairUs Art+Research (21 January) / Archana Hande (22 January) / Megan Hildebrandt (22 January) / Fieldfaring — Susanne Cockrell & Ted Purves (23 January) / Geraldine Juárez (24 January) / Silvio Lorusso (25 January) / Yogesh Barve (26 January) / Kathleen Meaney & Taekyeom Lee (27 January) / Sophia Brueckner (28 January) / Renuka Rajiv (29 January) / Beat Officer — with Lucy Pawlak (30 January) / Carmel Buckley (30 January) / Abhishek Hazra (31 January) / Lanfranco Aceti (31 January) / Tyler Denmead (1 February) / Masimba Hwati (2 February) / Out-of-Sync — Norie Neumark & Maria Miranda  (3 February) / Regin Igloria (4 February) / Eno Laget (4 February) / Joey Holder (5 February) / Nicolás Lamas (6 February) / Sarah Schönfeld (7 February) / Isabella Streffen (8 February) / Breda Lynch (9 February) / Laura Yuile (10 February) / Eryn Foster (11 February) /  Natalie Boterman (12 February) / Angela Glanzmann (13 February) / Ann Bartges (13 February) / Aysha Al Moayyed (14 February) / Frances Healands (14 February) / Nasser Al Zayani (15 February) / Martin Lang(15 February) / Jenine Sharabi (16 February) / JODI (17 February) / Joana Moll (18 February) / Huaqian Zhang (19 February) / Anupam Singh (20 February) / Anke Schuettler (21 February) / Xi Jie Ng (22 February) / Niko Princen (23 February) / Eva and Franco Mattes (24 February) / Garrett Lynch (25 February) / Nihaal Faizal (26 February) / Maximilian Goldfarb (27 February) /  Abigail Yue Wang (1 March) / Jiaru Wu (2 March) / Chinar Shah, Surabhi Vaya and Ajit Bhadoriya (22 March) / and more

GUEST CURATORS (to date):

Nora O’Murchu / Latifa Al Khalifa / Bani Brusadin / Peter Dykhuis / Fred Feinberg & Lu Zhang / Harrell Fletcher / Tamara Ibarra / João Laia / Domenico Quaranta / Akansha Rastogi / Gaia Tedone / Stephanie & Bruce Tharp / Yidi Tsao / and more

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS TO THE EXHIBITION CATALOG:

Padma Chirumamilla / Mark Dery / Marialaura Ghidini / Lawrence Liang / Rebekah Modrak / Gaia Tedone / Rob Walker

#exstrange WOULD LIKE TO ACKNOWLEDGE SUPPORT FROM:

Center for South Asian Studies, University of Michigan, USA

Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan, USA

Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Andersen, C.U. & Pold S.B., 2011. Interface Criticism: Aesthetics Beyond the Buttons, Aarhus: Aarhus University Press

Banet-Weiser, Sarah, and Marita Sturken. “The Politics of Commerce: Shepard Fairey and the New Cultural Entrepreneurship.” In Blowing up the Brand: Critical Perspectives on Promotional Culture, edited by M. Aronczyk, and D. Powers, 263-284. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.

Bazzichelli, Tatiana and Geoff Cox, editors. Disrupting Business: Art and Activism in Times of Financial Crises. New York: Autonomedia, 2013.

Becker, H. S. Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California, 1982.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics [1998], trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods with the participation of Mathieu Copeland (Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2002).

Ghidini, Marialaura. Curating Web-based Art Exhibitions: mapping online and offline formats of display. PhD: University of Sunderland, 2015.

Goriunova, Olga. Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Handelman, J.M. and Kozinets, R.V. (2004) Proposed Encyclopedia of Sociology entry on

‘Culture Jamming’. Unpublished manuscript.

Lichty, Patrick. “Reconfiguring the Museum: Electronic Media and Emergent Curatorial Models.” SJSU/CADRE Institute’s SWITCH Journal, February (2002). http://switch.sjsu.edu/nextswitch/switch_engine/front/front.php?artc=72.

McGuigan, Jim. “The Neoliberal Self.” Culture Unbound 6, 2014: 223-240. Hosted by Linkoping University Electronic Press: http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se

Miranda, Maria. Unsitely Aesthetics: uncertain practices in contemporary art. Berlin: Errant Bodies, 2013.

Negativland, Over the Edge Vo. 1: Jamcon ‘84, Label: Seeland, 1984.

Paul, Christiane. “Flexible Contexts, Democratic Filtering, and Computer Aided Curating – Models for Online Curatorial Practice.” In Curating Immateriality: The Work of the Curator in the Age of Network Systems, edited by J. Krysa, 85-105. New York: Autonomedia Press, 2006.

Ramocki, M., 2008. Surfing Clubs: organized notes and comments. [pdf] Notes from presentation at Obsolescence and Culture of Human Invention conference. Nova Scotia: College of Arts and Crafts, Halifax. 26-30 May 2. Available at:

http://www.ramocki.net/surfing-clubs.pdf

Simmel, Georg. On Individuality and Social Forms. Edited by Donald N. Levine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Welch, Chuck. Eternal Network : A Mail Art Anthology. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995.

IOCOSE, “Instant Protest #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Lincoln, UK, Courtesy of IOCOSE.

Instant Protest is an eBay listing where IOCOSE sell street demonstrations. The slogans on the signs shown by the crowd are decided by the buyer. The buyer receives photos generated through crowdsourcing platforms, involving workers from all over the world. The listing is advertised as ‘ideal for news article, social campaigns, lobbying and political movements’. Instant Protest is a web service for a post-truth society, after the failure of online participation and collective intelligence.

Lloyd Corporation, “Bankrupt. Bulk Buy. Liquidation. Repossession. #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in London, UK, Courtesy of Lloyd Corporation.

 

Bankrupt. Bulk Buy. Liquidation. Repossession is an Ebay advert listed under the category > Other Wholesale and Job Lots. As an intervention it takes an existing Job Lot advert, utilises the text and structure but substitutes a new set of product photographs for the image gallery. Responding to the following convention of job lot adverts, where “photos of items provided are only for demonstration of the range and you may not get any items in the photos”, the artwork-advert tries to generate reflections on globalised manufacture, informality and exchange. The new images insert a different range of aesthetics from the illicit, vernacular, artisanal, kitsch, corporate and high cultural, as well as playing with the different compositions of product photographs informed by this category (from the mimicking of professional studio shots to glimpses of anonymous domestic and commercial interiors). By appropriating an existing advert we aim to make a latent intervention that the buyer will accept as a real offer, leading to further possible iterations of the work in delivering a package of ‘sculptural’ job lot products.

John D. Freyer, “Seven Left Socks. dark, missing mates, unique edition, mismatched – #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Richmond, VA, USA, Courtesy of John D. Freyer.

 

Objects are containers for stories, from the cherished family heirloom passed down from generation to generation to the humble pair of “party socks” left in the top draw of my father’s dresser, in his home in the Villages.  My father’s life was reduced to a collection of objects with no purpose, which no longer really fit anyone, in style or in shape. This summer I helped my mother sort through huge black garbage bags of my father’s clothing.  I remembered him wearing a particular shirt or sweater and put it asides. I saved all of the Syracuse University sports gear that he had, thinking my brothers would want something from the pile.  In the end four and a half bags of clothing went to the thrift store, stripped of their history, freed from the burdens of memory, to be used, repurposed or discarded by future owners with their own set of stories. 

Matt Kenyon, “1000 Rupees Indian Currency – Canceled Currency #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Providence, RI, USA, Courtesy of Matt Kenyon.

This work examines the thoughts and beliefs following the global financial crisis in 2008 and the profound loss of faith in markets that followed Narendra Modi banning India’s largest currency bills in effort to combat corruption and terrorism.

How do we confront events in our own lives that relate to the mind-bogglingly complex, media-constructed image of our economy? What happens when what seems like solid, familiar, everyday currency vanishes, threatening to collapse the entire, globally interconnected fragile system.

KairUs, “Let’s talk business. archive spam-cam #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Austria, Courtesy of KairUs.

‘Let’s talk business’ is a multi-channel artistic audio installation that enables the user to listen to Internet scammers who try to lure potential victims into advance fee payments. Their phone numbers were extracted from a Scam Email database, analyzed by country, and categorized by scam scheme. Once calling up, they had the chance to tell their persuasive stories. Using SPAM-cans as listening devices the user can browse through the scam stories of once-in-a lifetime business opportunities, distant relatives beneficiaries, big lottery fortunes or helping the ones in need.

Sophia Brueckner, “Captured by an Algorithm, Romance Novel Commemorative Plate, 1st Edition #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, Courtesy of Sophia Brueckner. Curators: Rebekah Modrak + Marialaura Ghidini.

Captured by an Algorithm is a commemorative plate series celebrating singular, fleeting moments in how common algorithms interpret the most popular romance novels. Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm, which is intended to stitch together photos into panoramas, is instead applied to scans of romance novel covers. Because the covers are so similar, the algorithm often finds areas that it believes should overlap producing dreamy, hybrid landscapes. Each plate features one of these landscapes as well as a Kindle Popular Highlight from a popular romance novel. Kindle Popular Highlights are the lines in eBooks that most readers highlight, and they are visible to the reader as they read the eBook. When a reader highlights a Kindle Popular Highlight, they are saying, “Yes, I agree!” and they can take comfort in knowing that they are one of many feeling how they feel.

Renuka Rajiv, “Skype Portrait #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Bangalore, India, Courtesy of Renuka Rajiv. Curators: Rebekah Modrak + Marialaura Ghidini.

The internet is a place where entire friendships/ relationships have materialized and developed. Some of these have never required meeting in so-called REAL life. I would like to explore the possibility of a buyer and seller meeting online, instead of remaining invisible to one another as often happens. I am interested in using Skype because it is now seen as a legitimate form of contact, because of the amount of time virtual interactions now occupy in peoples’ lives. Portraiture comes in many forms but in my interest in it is dependent on participatory involvement and non-fictional performance.

Lanfranco Aceti, “One Unit of a Slap (Slap in the Face, Medium to Strong, Colorful) #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Courtesy of Lanfranco Aceti. Curator: Artist Joiner.

Tyler Denmead, “Urban Frontier Bench (The Limited Youth Edition) #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Champaign, Illinois, USA, Courtesy of Tyler Denmead. Curators: Rebekah Modrak + Marialaura Ghidini.

This artwork makes a critical comment on how arts and humanities programs for young people of color from low income and working class backgrounds living in cities (i.e. “Youth”) are implicated in the political economy of post-industrial cities. These cities are now often imagined as sites of social inclusion and economic opportunity whereby all residents will participate in a new urban landscape kickstarted by arts, culture, and creativity. These programs are central to this urban imaginary. While these programs do undoubtedly provide powerful creative learning opportunities, they also engage young people in revitalizing these cities at their expense. Their cultural labor provides images of sanitized diversity and artsiness that more affluent residents that are gentrifying neighborhoods desire. Furthermore, their labor provides both an illusion of consent and unjustified opportunity amidst this gentrification. This artwork uses the auction itself to highlight these concerns by foregrounding the obscured means of youth production and consumption that I consider key to mobilizing post-industrial redevelopment.

Masimba Hwati, “(Kutengesa Nyika) Soil Sample from Harare Kopje #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Harare, Zimbabwe. Courtesy of Masimba Hwati. Curators: Rebekah Modrak + Marialaura Ghidini.

I’m not sure if I’m selling a token of 126 years of struggle for land. The IOM office in Harare estimates that 500,000 to 4 million Zimbabweans are in Diaspora. Maybe they or anyone might appreciate a souvenir. The pricing of $36 is based on the number of independent years from the British Colony. What does it mean to sell a country and buy it or steal it? An expression of the suffering of a land caught in the midst of human greed? Most African Countries declare their freedom from former Colonizers but are they free?

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Sarah Schönfeld, “Flying Sorcerer #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Berlin, Germany. Courtesy of Sarah Schönfeld. Curator: João Laia.

The work of Sarah Ancelle Schönfeld jestingly deals with the spiritual and scientific imagination. It reflects on different kinds of knowledge-, control- and truth-production, constituting and reproducing our human „self“ in the world. Her method is an appropriation and recomposing of concepts. In order to create new meanings and perspectives, common structures are sliced up, analysed and put back together in a different way, using oracular technics and alchemical experiments. Approaches from various fields find themselves included in her practice, like amerindian perspectisvism, natural science, religion, archeology, mythology, magic and technology. The work includes a wide range of mediums like photography, print, slupture, installation and performance.

Maeve O Neill, “Limited Edition 12” Vinyl, Donald Trump from Space #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in London, UK. Courtesy of Maeve O Neill. Curator: Nora O Murchú.

Isabella Streffen, “A Silver Nutmeg and a Golden Pear #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in London, UK. Courtesy of Isabella Streffen. Curator: Nora O Murchú.

 Who is to say what objects mean to us, or which relationships they manifest and reify? What propositions of care can be explored through this platform’s specific taxonomies and terms of engagement? Deep among Collectables, other magic this artwork casts its own spell.

Eryn Foster, “Culture Sculptures #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Courtesy of Eryn Foster. Curator: Peter Dykhuis

Nasser Alzayani, “Memoirs of a Mountain: Chapter I – The Mountain #exstrange,” 2017, eBay auction originating in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Courtesy of Nasser Alzayani. Curator: Latifa Al Khalifa.

 Nasser Alzayabi attempts to tell a brief yet immeasurable history of one mountain: Jabal Jais. In these three chapters, titled The Mountain, The People, and Other Living Things, is a categorized portrayal of elements that construct a recent experience of Jais. The objects are remnants of a past, symbols of a present, and predictions of a future. The moment they are taken out of the context of the mountain they are frozen in time. No longer exposed to the physical forces of erosion, they remain as artifacts from a mountain that will never be the same again.

Ris Publica (Jessica Winton)

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Ris Publica (trans: public laughter) proposes the site of the civic parade as a unique possibility (i.e. – as an event that carries forward a history and infrastructure of civic culture whilst containing potential for the enactment of a diverse civic identity). A humorous form of open, generous and joyful participation, Ris Publica seeks to ensconce itself in the event of the parade by creating a semblance of conventional float entries.

Image above: Ris Publica (Jessica Winton), 2016, mixed media and performance, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Locations and Dates:

Version 1 has taken place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on August 1st, 2016, during the Natal Day Parade and V.2 will take place once again on August 7th, 2017 (albeit with different content) It will then continue to take place annually. This work seeks to become expanded anywhere as a model of interposition in civic parades. Ris Publica is currently arranging V.3 participation at Art City in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada during the month of June 2017, during their annual parade. V.4 anticipates participation in the annual Wassail parade (typically in early December) in Woodstock, Vermont, through a collaboration with the ArtisTree Community Art Center.

Ris Publica project link: http://www.rispublica.com/

Ris Publica Halifax 2016 video link: https://vimeo.com/192560286

Halifax Natal Day link: http://www.natalday.org/parade-registration.php

ArtCity link: http://www.artcityinc.com/

Background:

In the inaugural Halifax/Dartmouth formation, four parade entries were created, performed and documented. Responses to the work in video, written and oral form continue to be collected by third-person interviews, and gathered through focused discussion of the event with the participants in the weeks following the performance. Knowledge acquired from this collection of responses will drive upcoming event formations.

The following practical descriptions, present the four entries created (in their parade order of appearance for 2016):

Domestic Cleansing #27: performers sweep around and under a 10′ x 16.5′ rolling carpet with brooms (that are attached to the rolling chassis by cables) which guide the maneuvering. Additional performers glean the leftover debris.

Jessica Winton, Domestic Cleansing (Ris Publica), 2016, mixed media and performance, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo: Katherine Knight

Lorem Ipsum #31: a group of performers carry a banner with an intentional “placeholder” text as the group name. Group member performers interact in a manner similar to a “wave” in the crowd at an arena, passing movement through and across themselves, initiated from within or from the audience themselves.

Jessica Winton, Sweet Nothings (Ris Publica), 2016, mixed media and performance, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo: Katherine Knight

Good Intentions #42: performers work with the machinery and hand tools of a paving crew; things go awry as they attempt to maintain the civic infrastructure – taking measurements and flattening the pavement – despite their best efforts to do a good job.

Jessica Winton, Good Intentions (Ris Publica), 2016, mixed media and performance, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo: Katherine Knight

Methodology:

Ris Publica attempts to employ a multi-faceted approach centred around readability/obfuscation  at the intersection of art, civics and everyday life. This ensconcing methodology attempts to position audience participation and response to an artwork into the format of civic festivity, thus hybridizing and expanding the realms of aesthetic literacy. This approach contains dual objectives – providing both visual examples of participation and instruction to annual participants in tandem.

Ris Publica envisions expanded aesthetic literacy and fosters the use of this vocabulary through additional participation promotion in upcoming years. Delving into the complex interactions of agents involved in the public spheres, this project limits its direction towards consideration of participation in the parade, rather than a specific platform outside of the event. By using indeterminacy (of authorship and meaning) as a possible point of accessibility for the audience, Ris Publica draws from the many strategies and concerns of the Fluxus movement, though distinctively, the intention of the Ris Publica project is to politicize the annual civic festivity through an accessible and symbiotic form, rather than contend the event itself has an “agency for action”.[i]

This endeavor seeks to jointly engage members of civic society for the parade, which provides the opportunity for the Ris Publica artworks to be recognized as having ‘exclusive characteristics and yet simultaneously shared experience’[ii]. The postulation is that through both the visual example provided by Ris Publica and participants’ experiences of each event, aesthetic literacy will improve, and the public will regard the arts with increased value and will thus increase heterogeneous participation. The results of this practice will be borne out as Ris Publica continues over several years and events.

The creation of this work as sculptural/performative objects stems from an interest in what Joseph Beuys described as social sculpture[iii] a methodology which elevates the importance of the connection of the work to its audience over its form. Unlike Beuys, this practice eschews the celebrity status of the individual artist, thereby landing in the dialogical framework of participatory practice. To the Project Anywhere audience, the explication of contextual politics will remain vague, though assuredly the inaugural forms engaged deliberative location and time specificity (Halifax/2016) to inform the content. Articulation of future versions will result in unique floats and performances being created, again derived from context specificity at time of creation.

The process of situating the first version in Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Natal Day Parade resulted in (estimated) 40,000+ in public attendance. This is equivalent to the estimated number of annual visitors to the two provincial art institutions of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. This outcome is significant, in terms of reception to the expanded field of public art, in that it reaches those whom Thomas Hirschhorn would describe as a non-exclusive audience.[iv]

The 50+ participants, who were drawn to the project through various public media appeals and word of mouth, encompassed many from this non-exclusive group. This smaller group, somewhat diverse in age, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, education, family position and heritage, experienced the work as a socially engaged art project – co-creating choreographic movement for each entry and contributing to the work’s own community through participation in rehearsals and convening before and after the parade for discussions.

A unique consideration of this work is a typically unrecognized participatory audience – the 20+ members of the municipal civic events administration and parade volunteers as well as local businesses (Ocean Construction supplied and delivered the asphalt roller) that contributed material and supplies. It was necessary for these instrumental participants to recognize the importance of this work and thereby authorize and support its’ occurrence. Through this civic process, the Ris Publica project has officially become a matter of public record, and was ultimately awarded the prize for the Most Humorous Entry, from the organizers.

Considerations:

The use of humour in Ris Publica, aside from being enjoyable to create, holds intriguing value in a social theory context. Employing a strategy of accessibility (meanings, materials, performance) in the humor-based work, attempts to mitigate any profound concerns that the work unwittingly reinforces predominant social hierarchies. Though relief or superiority theories may determine the subjective responses inherent in hierarchical humour, Ris Publica attempts to flatten these positions, placing itself through “incongruity theory”.

A humor theorist working in this vein, Thomas Veatch, writes that a person perceives humour when there is simultaneously a “violation of a subjective moral order”[v] yet also retains a predominating view of the situation as being normal. His broad use of the term “moral” here refers to “the issues people actually care about” at a certain emotional distance from the perceiver – sympathetic, but not sacred – and it is this middle distance that Ris Publica aims towards.

For the viewer, finding humour depends upon the discernment of an appropriate incongruity, which is perhaps on recognition of a structure that is then subverted. Defining this subversion further, Gregory Schrempp recognizes that this conceptualization “holds that the humor proceeds upon the apprehension of a structure of ideas rather than from the reaction to particular ideas, motives, or events [themselves].”[vi] Ris Publica aims to delve into local understandings and engage debate on alternate possibilities through exposure of the structure of this knowledge.

Though each version is engaged locally, there are universal examples of humour being used as an effective and acceptable gesture that is able to challenge the status quo, or push the boundaries of social acceptability, regardless of the message carried with it. The following text from Hub Zwart is such an exemplary description of the value of humour to social resistance – the ways we, as citizens, come to it, and empower ourselves via its utilization:

“… all of a sudden, the basic vulnerability of the dominant regime dawns on us or is revealed to us – and this is the experience of laughter… Moral criticism, and the subsequent dawning of a new moral discourse or moral regime, is preceded by the experience of laughter… [it] allowed for unprecedented forms of moral subjectivity to emerge and constitute themselves. True laughter is the ground and starting point of moral transformations, and an experience of epochal significance. “[vii]

Although the preceding quote speaks of laughter as the grounds for change, I would argue that laughter is a result of a cognitive change transpiring upon the discernment of an incongruity – humour. Our ability to recognize the subverted framework and discern the incongruity results in the vital bodily sensation of laughter. This laughter, freed from the body as mimetic energy, re-organizes itself in new ways, having emerged from a creative process and radiating outward from one’s body as a comic ‘wave packet’[viii].

Context:

Ris Publica intentionally chooses the forum of the public parade believing it resists the logic, values and power of financialization, as it occurs in an event largely unrecognized by typical institutions of art. As such, the parade functions as a “public sphere”[ix] as Jürgen Habermas proposed, and could be the method by which the civic structure is shaped, and altered to suit the dynamic needs of the people it ostensibly supports. Simon Sheik provides a description of an updated concept of what the public sphere could represent and it is within this contemporary description that I secure a rationale for this site for this work:

“we can attempt to posit the various public spheres or formats of cultural production – the exhibitionary complex, the educational facility, public television, et al. – as precisely the arena for contestations and articulations.”[x]

In its ideal form, the civic parade has the opportunity to graft the social identity of [non-partisan] registrants onto the viewers and allow for a safe and welcoming arena for the multiplicity of issues at hand for the citizenry.

As Judith Butler asserts, “To be a political actor is a function, a feature of acting on terms of equality with other humans­…The exercise of freedom is something that does not come from you or from me, but what is between us, from the bond we make at the moment in which we exercise freedom together, a bond without which there is no freedom at all.”[xi]

The critical difference in the structure of a civic parade rather than a protest or demonstration (what Butler’s earlier writing refers to) is that the purpose of participation is simply [re]presentation, under the auspices of a civic structure. This methodology of ensconcing the work within the civic parade (as opposed to a novel performance) not only allows for a widening of possible viewership and participation, but also corresponds to what Marc James Léger terms the “…sinthomeopathetic, which proposes a transformation of the mediating functions of institutions through occupation and radicalization”[xii]. In the case of the Ris Publica project, the institution occupied being the civic event of the regional Municipal Councils, transforming their function towards a more creative and representational venue.

Registrants have the potential to engage in this ‘public sphere’ via their own floats or entries – which are the visible elements of the reflected community – allowing for the recognition of one’s individual values, and the issues at hand in one’s social circles, amongst a plethora of other concerns. This is what Suzanne Lacy designates the “activated value system”[xiii] of the audience with which art has the ability to connect. This activation could be seen as blurring the distinction between ‘high art’ and social practice taking place on the tableau of society.

Ris Publica seeks to pursue the performance of humor-based critique within the civic event, created for, and enacted by citizenry on public streets where strangers interact, with the ambition toward beginning the existence of emancipated public spheres. These interests would be greatly bolstered when carried out in multiple locations, with engagement and participation strategies effectively researched, by critiquing locally supported issues within local contexts and ultimately disseminated via the platform provided by Project Anywhere.

[i]  Meyer-Hermann, Eva, Andrew Perchuk, Stephanie Rosenthal, and Allan Kaprow. Allan Kaprow – Art As Life. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008, p.82

[ii] Rancière, Jacques. (Gabriel Rockhill, transl.) The politics of Aesthetics: the distribution of the sensible. London New York: Continuum, 2006.

[iii] Beuys’ concept of expanding sculpture socially as a gesamtkunstwerk, (a total artwork) for which he claimed a creative, participatory role in shaping society and politics.

[iv] Hirschhorn, Thomas, et al. Critical laboratory the writings of Thomas Hirschhorn.     Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2013.

[v] Veatch, Thomas. A Theory of Humor, the International Journal of Humor Research – 11,1998, p.168.

[vi] Schrempp, Gregory. “Our funny universe: On Aristotle’s metaphysics, Oring’s theory of humor, and other appropriate incongruities.” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, Vol 8(3), 1995, p.81.

[vii] Zwart, Hub. Ethical consensus and the truth of laughter: the structure of moral transformations. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok Pharos Pub. House. 1996, p. 9

[viii] Massumi, Brian. The power at the end of the economy. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. Print. (e-book)

[ix] Habermas, Jürgen. Thomas Burger, and Frederick Lawrence. The structural   transformation of the public sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois            society. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992. Print.

[x] Sheikh, Simon. “In the place of the public sphere? or, the world in fragments.” Situation. Claire Doherty. [Ed.]  London, Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery MIT Press, 2009, p.141.

[xi] Butler, Judith. Notes toward a performative theory of assembly. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015, p.52.

[xii] Léger, Marc J. Brave new avant garde : essays on contemporary art and politics. Winchester, UK Washington, USA: Zero Books, 2012, p.3.

[xiii]  Lacy, Suzanne. Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics and Publics, 1974-2007. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010, p.30.

Absens (Frauke Materlik and Stephen Crowe)

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An investigative sound installation and immaterial archive in the high mountains of Western Norway

image-1_absens(Photograph by Frauke Materlik)

Absens takes place in the remote mountain regions of Western Norway and involves using sound and space interventions to explore transformations within landscapes and society. The project highlights gradually transforming infrastructures, looking specifically at the formerly agricultural landscape in higher mountain areas.

How do sound, memory, landscape and infrastructure relate?

Absens seeks to make it possible to sense time.

Absens will be translated into a sound installation of recomposed field recordings, an archive, and artist book.

Absens was initiated by artist and landscape architect Frauke Materlik.  Materlik has invited Stephen Crowe, a composer of experimental music, to be part of the process.

www.fraukematerlik.eu
www.stephencroweopera.org

Absens receives funding from the Municipality of Bergen and is supported by the Norwegian Tourist Asscociation, an institution comparable with the Alpine Club.

Introduction

During the summer of 2016, a sound installation on the Hardanger plateau in Norway will feature recomposed field recordings of agricultural processes such as milking machines, engines, and cows, goats, sheep – all with their respective bells – on summer pasture.  Significantly, there are now hardly any animals grazing in these mountains. This is a fairly recent development underscoring drastic changes in land use and infrastructure, thus also affecting the perception of landscape.

Landscape is at the core of memory. Spaces and places can be easier to remember through spatial-sensual perception than simply through time-based events.[i] Absens examines relationships between landscape and memory by using sound to reanimate memory and highlight the distinctive and local in a global context. Accordingly, our objective is to investigate connections in order to discover how one factor, occurrence or process might lead to and influence another, or in turn point toward previous incidents.

Artistic production follows a “logic of speculation”, suggesting that an artwork might become a model for a society – as opposed to simply modeling itself upon a society.[ii] Absens connects audio and the environment, facilitating unexpected encounters between the past, present and future – and between memory and the present. It correlates links and new subjects of observation and imagination, in the outside, and in areas that are rapidly changing.

image-2_absensA mode of succession. These photos were all taken at the same location. Changes in landscape can take time and are therefore often not easily noticeable. One simply gets used to gradual transformation. These photos intriguingly illustrate recent developments. Photographer, Oscar Puschman: blogg.nrk.no

Political, historical and theoretical background

Landscape can tell us about both history and the present, and about human activities that one might not grasp from other contexts and subjects. For American landscape architect Dianne Harris, the “seen landscape is frequently misleading […] We need to look carefully at what is visible but also at what is erased or consciously rendered invisible and for what reasons”.[iii]

For over one hundred years, Norway has promoted itself as a country of outstanding landscapes and beauty. These landscapes are however undergoing radical change. More and more waterfalls are put into pipes for energy production. Fjords serve as tipping place for waste, air pollution increases due to cruise ship traffic. On one hand, landscape functions as a resource, and on the other, as a romantic image.

Absens explores these divergent perceptions, focusing on new ways of conceiving and conceptualizing infrastructure. The project is not a nostalgic ‘looking back’ but rather a questioning of the future.

Absens aims to make it possible to sense time. In the words of Elizabeth Grosz, the goal is to seek “a way to render time sensational, to make time resonate sensibly, for no art can freeze time [..] except through the invention of new forces and energies”.[iv]

image-3_absens
The meeting of perceptions: landscape and the environment as resource or romantic image. Photograph by Frauke Materlik.

Since the 1970s, Norway has undergone radical transformations in infrastructure and economic development – most recently at a rapidly increasing speed. This development is primarily due to the substantial oil resources that now form the backbone of Norway’s economy and employment. By contrast, the nation’s economy was formerly based upon farming and fishery. Nowadays, change is increasingly visible in the landscape, with quickly substantially decreasing working farms and local food production. Until only a couple of years ago, it was common to see cattle, sheep and goats summer pastures in the mountains. But due to the restructuring of farm funding and methods, there are now less and less animals in the mountains, which has in turn prompted the land to be covered by new growth and a rapidly changing flora and fauna.

Absens reflects on how changes taking place around us:  What do we see without seeing?

image-4_absens

Derelict farm in Western Norway. Photograph by Frauke Materlik

Absens was initially triggered by Materlik’s experience many years ago of working on a Norwegian farm when she spent the summer on the outfarm with cows and goats. The sound of the working farm and the animals with their bells was a distinct and highly evocative experience. This sound has more or less disappeared today. Working in Switzerland last year on a landscape research project, she noticed how high mountain farming still is of great importance for the maintenance of cultural landscape. This has thus become an experience Materlik wants to relate to experience of the Norwegian mountains, and to consequently engage in a discussion around challenges of contemporary infrastructure and future development, and in doing so, link past and present, rendering time and space through the intervention of sound.

image-5_absensCows in Switzerland – a common visual and audio feature in the high mountains, and a mode of maintaining cultural landscapes and tradition. Photograph by Frauke Materlik

Methodology

The initial stage of the project is a mapping of the current state – i.e. an act of preserving and gathering the immaterial audio and visual features of a landscape.  To do this we will travel large distances on winding mountain roads during autumn 2015 and spring 2016 in order to locate remaining farmers and farm animals. Then, using collected images and the sounds of agriculture, animals and their bells, we will create an archive that will serve as a basis for a newly composed soundscape. The final composition will be installed in a former outfarm area high up in the Hardanger mountains in 2016 as soon as weather permits. Following discussions with the Norwegian Hiking association, we decided to use the surroundings of Stavali cabin as a location for the project. Significantly, until three years ago there was an outfarm at Stavali that dated to the sixteenth century. Today the tourist association operates a location that has become especially popular with hikers during the summer months. The cabin opens to the public in late June, and the equipment for the sound installation will be shipped by helicopter, together with all other essential materials for the summer season.

http://www.ut.no/hytte/3.1698/

Around Stavali, loudspeakers will be installed invisibly and sheltered from the elements such that only sounds are perceived at particular times over periods of varying length. The sound will increase and decrease, as if the farm animals were moving, coming closer and then disappearing again. Sound will be amplified at a relatively low volume, such that the perceiver might wonder if s/he has heard or imagined the sounds. Thus, the sound work embraces and interacts with the space, treating it according to its own needs.[vi]

image-6_absens Encounter in the mountains. Photograph by Frauke Materlik

With Absens, we have decided to take the important step to leave traditional exhibition spaces and install the work in situ in the mountains. The context within which the work is experienced is clearly fundamental to its content.[vii] We also wished to create a space for an audience that rarely visits museums and galleries within which to experience contemporary art and music. We also plan to present the project in the city of Bergen, creating further correlations in transporting the remote landscape into an urban context. Furthermore, we envisage building an online archive.  We want the project to be equally accessible and exciting for all age groups; both for those who remember that there were animals grazing on the outfarms some years ago, and for those who are too young to know so much about it. Absens will therefore involve its audiences in a process of highlighting familiar yet forgotten landscapes – facilitating a state of mind combining place and consciousness –’inner’ and ‘outer’ landscapes. Absens hopes to function as a starting point for discussion about that which was common until not so long ago yet already beginning to be forgotten.  For Merleau-Ponty:

Each moment of time calls all the others to witness; it shows by its advent ‘how things were meant to turn out’ and ‘how it will all finish’; each present permanently underpins a point of time which calls for recognition from all the others…[viii]

Absens is not simply a soundtrack for changing landscape.  It is also a questioning of future developments and a mapping of spaces in-between personal and common memories and anticipation. We also envisage substantiating the project within a framework potentially incorporating a seminar and concert in the mountains and a closing event in the city that will bringing together experts from various disciplines and the public.

image-7_absensVisiting one of the remaining dairy farms and recording in the stables. Photograph by Frauke Materlik

The current context

Why do we think that this project is interesting?

Absens is embedded in an ongoing and controversial political debate in Norway surrounding the nation’s future direction and self understanding: How can the material and immaterial heritage be maintained or preserved? How do we want to live, being self-supplied or entirely relying on international markets?

Absens is a poetic and critical response, questioning underlying infrastructures and seeking to both find answers and deepen questioning. We seek to develop a research strategy that will experientially convey transformations by employing sound as a means through which to create ‘inner’ images and time renderings – thus animating personal and collective memories and engage in a debate on future possibilities. Consequently, we aim to reanimate a common memory and presence with a focus on the distinctive and local in an expanded context. In doing so, we consistently return to the questions: What needs to be preserved, discovered, and lived – both now and beyond the horizon of our present? What roles do cultural and personal memories play in this matrix? How might sound and installation practice become a tool for exploring these questions?

Norway is just one example in a global shift. Comparable scenarios can be found in many other former agricultural regions. By participating in Project Anywhere, we seek to evoke and discuss important relationships between sound, memory, landscape and infrastructure, and in doing so, gather and share knowledge and experience at a broader level.

image-8_absensField recordings. Photograph by Stephen Crowe

[i] Simmel, Georg. 1913. Die Philosophie der Landschaft.  In Die Güldenkammer. Eine bremische Monatsschrift, Bremen.

[ii] Sheikh, Simon. 2011. Vectors of the Possible: Art Between Spaces of Experience and Horizons of Expectation.  In On Horizons. A Critical Reader in Contemporary Art.  BAK. Utrecht

[iii] Harris, Dianne. 2008. Sites Unseen  in Landscape Theory . Edited by DeLue, Rachel and Elkins, James. Routledge, London

[iv] Grosz, Elizabeth. 2008. Chaos, Territory, Art.  Columbia University Press. New York

[v] Helle, Siri. 2015. Skal landet gro att?  (trans: Should the countryside become overgrown?). Dreyers Forlag. Oslo

[vi]  Focillon, Henri. 1989. Forms in the Realm of Space.  In The Life of Form in Art. Zone Books.

[vii]  Drabble, Barnaby. 2013. Voices in the Exhibition.  In Smoky Pokership.Perform the Exhibition Space.  Ed. Omlin, Sibylle.Verlag für moderne Kunst. Nürnberg

[viii] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception . Routledge. London

Calling Athlone (Steve Maher)

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RADIO ATHLONE DIAL 2

Calling Athlone is a relational, installation and broadcast based art project that makes use of Athlone’s (Co West-Meath, Ireland) deep connection to broadcasting both past and present. The project aims to make this connection through an exploration of the technology and sites linked to the history of broadcasting in the area.  The project will connect communities within Athlone to their rich broadcasting heritage and the empowerment which broadcasting can offer while also addressing the intricate histories which came into being as a direct result of Ireland’s contested past.  The project is to be centred on a series of workshops that will lead to the production of homemade crystal set radios by its participants and the material for a short radio documentary. The radio documentary will later be broadcast in the area and the participants of the workshops will be able to listen to the documentary about their contributions through the radios that they themselves have made. Crystal set radios are entirely powered by radio waves and require no additional electrical source, they are cheap and simple to make. By distributing the knowledge for their construction and linking it to the legacy of innovation that for many years placed Athlone a relatively obscure town in the centre of Ireland on the map I will provoke new considerations amongst the local community regarding the legacy of technology.  The project will culminate in an on-site installation featuring a recording of the broadcast played through the radios the participants of the project have built themselves in their own homes. The project will attempt to position historic research and knowledge regarding broadcasting in the area into the format of an engaged project for the community to provoke new considerations and relationships within the context of one of their most historically significant yet periphery items of legacy.

Context

Athlone is unique by comparison to the rest of Ireland in that it hosts four generations of broadcasting. In 1926, as one of the newly independent Irish States first major public works projects and alongside the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station Athlone’s Moydrum transmitter station was built and operational by 1932, while not the only radio station in Ireland at the time it was the most central and highest powered, being capable of reaching far across the country and into far eastern Europe. This centrality later leads to it becoming the consolidated headquarters of Irish broadcasting, later being re-named Radio Na hEireann in the 1950s, up until this point most European made wireless radios featured Athlone on the Dial between major European cities like Helsinki and Moscow. Until the 1970s the site played host to the country’s main broadcaster, later being used as the location of the 2FM broadcast.  Athlone continued to have local broadcasting, today a prominent station in the area is Athlone Community Radio 88.4fm, and a community based station which has won awards for its programming among other things.

The site of the transmitter is on the grounds of the Moydrum estate close by lies ruins of Moydrum Castle. The IRA burned this to the ground in 1921 during the war of independence in response to the burning of several rural homesteads by British Military forces. The ruins of the castle appear on the cover of U2’s An Unforgettable Fire, this further adds to the complex history of the site. Broadcasting continues in the area today through Athlone Community Radio which is now located within the town. The community is currently campaigning to have the Moydrum site and the history of broadcasting in Athlone recognised with the aim of transforming the historic location into a museum. The Athlone Marconi Centre Heritage Group is leading this effort. ACR 88.4fm, with support from the Sound and Vision broadcasting scheme, recently produced a documentary detailing much of this background story. A link to documentary can be found here.

The site’s close proximity to the ruins of the then freshly burned castle in Moydrum, show an underlying contention where the state made use of formerly Anglo-Irish property, whether this was due to its abandonment, a form a re-compensation through purchase of the land is not known to me at this time. The father of modern radio himself Guglielmo Marconi (Italy) had close ties to Ireland through his relations via his grandmother who was Jameson (the same family responsible for the famous Irish whiskey and distillery) and of Anglo-Irish descent (ascendency class in Ireland, Families granted ownership of large estates by British authority during Ireland’s time as part of the United Kingdom), indeed it was this close connection to Ireland that lead Marconi to develop most of his earliest technologies with one of his transmitters still existing on site at the Moydrum transmitter. During his tenure in Ireland pre-independence, families like the Hancock’s at Moydrum would have hosted him as a guest. While the personal motivations Marconi harbored at this time are unknown he continued to work in Ireland as before post-independence.

Concept

Radio… gives a voice to the voiceless and is a means for community development.

Mary Lennon, Station Manager Athlone Community Radio

Taking my cue from Athlone Community Radio’s own philosophy of radio having the potential to give a voice to voiceless I aim to host a project, which turns the very technology of radio into an emancipatory form of empowerment. I will facilitate this by giving people in the area the skills needed to harness both the power and information present on radio waves which are both omnipresent and deeply entrenched into the history of the town. By connecting this community to one of its most significant historical achievements I aim to transfer the spirit of ingenuity Marconi and other broadcasting innovators brought to the town from the past to the present. The project will put their accomplishments in relatable terms, in showing how to construct a simple radio we can also show how a radio as a concept in its expanded form works, both in the principals of broadcasting and the technology that allows for it.

The aim of this artwork is to connect the existing communities within Athlone with their rich broadcasting heritage in consideration of the earliest days of the state and its ambitious projects which are in part a result of the momentum generated by the struggle for independence; this project will have several stages and outcomes including an installation on site in the Luan Gallery and a radio documentary. The project will work alongside two pre-contacted organisations through Mary Lennon; station Manager at Athlone Community Radio and Tommy Mollen senior engineer at 2RN on-site at Moydrum Transmitter and Member of the Athlone Marconi Centre Heritage Group.   The project will begin as a series of workshops with members of the community, this community of interest will be invited through local platforms including dissemination through local radio, AIT students union, newspapers, parish diary and social media, it is hoped in this way that a broad demographic of people from the locality will be involved.

Once the community is reached, they will be invited to participate in a guided visit to the historic Moydrum transmitter location and the ruins of the castle. Later in the process they will be asked to participate in evening workshops, which will be located on site at the Moydrum transmitter.  During these workshops the participants will be shown how to construct simple crystal set radios as well as an introduction into the basics of radio electronics, the group will then be asked in response to build their own Radio sets based on these instructions and overseen by the artist on-site. A small short-range portable AM transmitter will be brought on site by the artist to test the newly constructed radios.  This entire process will be recorded in audio and alongside interviews with the community will be used as material for a short half hour radio documentary. A member of Athlone Community Radio, with the aim of using this material to produce a corresponding half hour radio broadcast about the project, will record this process. The participants will be invited to help produce a pre-recorded broadcast and shown the equipment a computer programs used today in modern radio stations.  Athlone Community Radio has committed to have a producer on site for the duration of the project. The broadcast will be transmitted shortly after in one of Athlone Community Radios timeslots, all participants within range of this broadcast will be able tune their newly constructed radios to the broadcast.  The program, which they produced, will play over the radios they built, as part of the workshop while radios themselves will be powered by the very same broadcast.

Later the installation component of the project a selection of these radios will be exhibited on site in Athlone in the Municipal Luan Gallery, the audience will be able to listen to the broadcast itself through these radios with the documentary set on repeat, this will be possible due to a small short wave AM transmitter on site connected to an mp3 player. The radios will be placed in a row either on individual plinths, between 15 and 30 radios may be made as part of this project, the amount on display may need to be decided depending on availability of space. The general public as the audience will be able to interact with the installation by picking up the telephone handsets used as a speaker for the radio sets. The work will exist as both recording and artefact, both in the radios the participants bring home but also as an art installation, later in the year.

Aside from this project’s main mandate, which is to provoke new considerations and relations to heritage amongst the community, project will also attempt help, promote the mandates of its main shareholders in the area.

Athlone Community radio which has been in operation as a volunteer organisation since 2006 and who will by the project’s completion be in the 10th year in operation.

Ÿ The Athlone Marconi Centre Heritage Group who are campaigning to have the location transformed into a museum.

Ÿ  The Luan Gallery, Athlone town center, a municipal art gallery ran by West-Meath County Council.

Timeframe

  1. Project will be promoted on local radio stations, open for all interested members within the community of listeners. I aim to specifically work with the Athlone Marconi Centre Heritage Group as my main community of interest but not exclusively. Project will also be publicized through social networking and through word of mouth within the community with the aid of the projects supporters. Workshop should be maximum 20 participants.
  2. Permission for access to the Moydrum Transmitter will be sought through the official parameters. A carpool may need to be organised in order for people from the area to travel to the site, as the site exists on the outskirts of the town.
  3. The space for the workshop will be secured for an appropriate date, depending on supporter’s calendar and timeframe for producing radio broadcast.
  4. Prior to the workshop taking place the site will be subject to a guided tour either overseen by Tommy Mollen or designed by him.
  5. Workshop is held over half a day from noon till evening.a. Beginning will consist of a presentation, segments of the “Athlone Calling” Documentary produced by Radio Athlone will be played mixed with a presentation summarising the history of broadcasting in Athlone. Referencing this source, which many in the community may be familiar with to expand upon the complicated histories within Athlone with particular relevance for broadcasting.b. A representative from Athlone Community radio will be present and will be asked to give a presentation regarding their work in the area and their connections to Athlone’s broadcasting history. This will ideally be the producer and interviewer of “Athlone Calling” Irena Cvetkovic, as she is intimately aware of Athlones broadcasting history having worked on the project.c. The basics of radio technology will be explained and will be related to the work of Marconi. This will focus on the actual physics of radio waves and broadcast, detailing how this immersive technology works and constantly surrounds us. This section will focus on many interesting aspects of broadcastings history both nationally specific to Ireland and international.d. The participants will be asked to share their own stories and connections to broadcasting, particularly members of the Athlone Marconi Heritage Group. This will be with the intent of creating personal narratives behind the participatory nature of the project and is also with the intent of producing a personalised aspect of the project. These “testimonies” will be edited and contributed to the production of the half hour documentary.e. Construction of the radios will commence overseen by artist, participants will be encouraged to experiment with the form and construction to see the results different designs may create. There is a limitation to the variation of forms and customisation that the radios are capable of hosting while still functionally detecting and playing radio waves. There will be an element of trial and error in this process; potentially some of the constructed radios may not be fully functional without major intervention by the artist. This aspect will be decided on site, on the fly.f. Tuning into local stations will test radios and short distance AM transmitter. I will bring on site. Currently AM broadcasting is being phased out in Ireland, both FM broadcast and the emerging Digital services provide clarity of sound and economy in operation. So the range of AM stations available at the testing stage will be limited, this will be worked around through the operation of a small short range AM transmitter, which will be brought onsite for the production of the project.g. During the process of the workshop, Athlone Community Radio will interview participants.h. Participants will also be invited to attend production of broadcast at a later date.
  6. Production of short half hour broadcast will commence using ACR equipment and artist’s own audio equipment’s. Artist has had previous experience with broadcasting at Wired FM Limerick so will be able to oversee the production at all points.
  7. Participant will be able to engage with this process and will be taught the basics of editing.
  8. Participants will be shown the studios and equipment used in contemporary broadcasting and will be guided in a tour of the station by Mary Lennon.
  9. The broadcast will air over ACR88.4fm and will be listened to by participants and wider community. It will also be available as a podcast from Athlone Community Radio website.
  10. The project will be represented later in the year on-site in Athlone through an existing art space or through a rented/disused shop unit within the town.

Dissemination of the project

The exhibition, in the Luan Gallery is not the culmination of the artwork itself, it is merely an aspect of its dissemination as opposed to the main material. The exhibition is more over an opportunity for the local community and the art gallery audience to interact with the artifacts which exist as a byproduct of the social engagement the project aims to provoke. The documentary, which will be broadcast on loop within the art space (A.M. frequency) and as part of Radio Athlone’s regular programming schedule (F.M. Frequency) will be a porous dissemination of the project throughout the area offering chance encounters outside of the regular parameters of an art audience. This documentary will also be hosted online alongside other supporting materials.

Documentation of site: Moydrum Transmitter, Athlone

The following photographs document the Moydrum Transmitter site. These images provide context for the location in which the workshops will take place.

Figure 1. Disassembled broadcast mast, one of two on-site. Dismantled due to ill repair.

Figure 1. Disassembled broadcast mast, one of two on-site. Dismantled due to ill repair.

Figure 2. Seemingly banal building in rural Ireland.

Figure 2. Seemingly banal building in rural Ireland.

 

Figure 3. Later model transmitter circa 1972

Figure 3. Later model transmitter circa 1972

 

Figure 4. Some of the control layout for the Marconi Transmitter (circa 1920)

Figure 4. Some of the control layout for the Marconi Transmitter (circa 1920)

Moydrum 5

Figure 5. Original patent plate and controls on Marconi Transmitter

 

The Luan Gallery: location for final project dissemination

 

Illustration 1: The Crystal Set Radios upon their completion will be displayed at the Luan Gallery, a location central to the town of Athlone and located closely to Athlone Community Radio.

Illustration 1: The Crystal Set Radios upon their completion will be displayed at the Luan Gallery, a location central to the town of Athlone and located closely to Athlone Community Radio.