Critical Mass. Nuclear Power in Germany

“I wanted to document these sites because to a lot of people they are just a name or an idea,” said Michael Danner after more than four years of visiting and documenting seventeen nuclear power plants in Germany. The photographer was allowed access to the deepest corners of the plants, including the pools where spent nuclear fuel is cooled and stored. Acting almost as a visual hand-held silent tour through the plants, the photographs lead us from outside the facilities and the usually rural context of the countryside to inside, revealing the photographer’s artistic and documentary concerns. Danner’s intention to show the human side of the plants offers different perspectives on the massive, stodgy, and potentially menacing structures, presenting us with the rituals of everyday activities and an introspective view of the facilities’ interiors.

Germany’s decision to shut down its nuclear power plants has determined Danner to photograph the facilities in an attempt to investigate the immediate past and restore considerations about how these facilities which once powered several generations have fallen into disfavour. Photographs taken from the Unterweser facility on the North Sea coast or the Isar power station in Bavaria picture a time and social conditions which have made Danner reflect on how the 1970s and an environmentally-conscious Germany extend their concerns to investigate the present. In an interview for Deutsche Welle, the photographer said his role is to contribute to the debate on nuclear power. It is not the evident, manifest power that Danner investigates in this series; instead, his focus falls on the normativity portrayed by these enclosed spaces, the rituals and routines that shaped the workers’ everyday views of the structures, as seen through an anonymous, absent eye. “I didn’t include people in the pictures,” says Danner, “but there are small items – backpacks or trophies, for instance – that give an indication about those who work here. Some staff members have been working at nuclear sites for decades.” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement on May 29, 2011, that Germany would close all of its nuclear power plants by 2012 thus concluding over four decades of nuclear power supplying and nuclear energy experiments has enabled Danner to set the project into a historical perspective, at the dusk of an age. The book is a documentary and an archive at the same time, balancing the past and the present only to raise questions on how will this epoch survive its future. The overlapping of past and present can be observed starting with the book cover and the retrospective look over environmental activist Günter Zint’s historical pictures and archive photographs of anti-nuclear demonstration. Looking through the times of heated confrontations between anti-nuclear power activists and governmental forces, one can only reflect on how past aspirations have shaped the present or how will the present be pictured in the future. Designed in collaboration with the Dutch graphic designer Sybren Kuiper and shortlisted for the 2015 edition of Deutscher Fotobuchpreis, Critical Mass is more than a document: it conveys a message for the generations to come, a plausible story of how ordinary routines may meet their decline, and an untold reflection on the photographic medium as archival document.

Read the full review here

Corporal Territories. A Conversation with Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault

Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault have collaborated since 1991, focusing their artistic practice on the constitutive frailties of the human body. Using 3D whole body laser scanning technology, the artists re-visualize the human figure and trace the body back to expanding corporal maps and landscapes. Custom software programs are often employed to create typographic strings from the topographic information contained within the scanned figures. While this abstraction results in the ‘deconstruction’ of the human form, the choreographed imagery of LoCurto and Outcault reveals the artists’ effort to capture the body beyond the immediacy of time and motion or the limits of single viewpoints provided by the fixed photographic eye. As such, they have included multiple camera views into their software, allowing them to explore the nature of 3D photographic images through unlimited viewpoints derived from single scans which thus enable the viewer a vision beyond a lens-based perspectival field. Ranging from figurative to the abstract, the artists’ large scale photographic self-portraits are seen as indeterminate map projections where matter, data, flesh, and the immaterial virtually merge in compositions that reveal the intimacies of “a psychic conundrum.” The distortions and oscillations of the human figure show us how information and the hollowness of the newly formed figures can de-realize the body and challenge our sense of corporal reality. Shredded and diffused, through rhythm, dynamics, and tempo, the bodies lose their fix identity and draw an indeterminate map of corporal territories that constantly engage in choreographed movements and animations where intimacies bear on both the physical and the psychological being. At first, this seems to present us with what Helaine Posner called “the assault on the integrity of the individual and public body during times of crisis.” But the vulnerabilities exposed throughout these corporal mappings reveal how art can bring us closer to ourselves, our most intimate faults and fears, and help us appropriate the technology that we ourselves are.

Ultimately, one could see in Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault’s digital études how technology can be used to appropriate corporal plasticity. Exposed outside its inner voids, elongated and decomposed along ribbons of flesh, constantly disappearing within its figure, the body is not only technology, but emotion too. It may even be said that, in these digital études, the body reveals both the technologies of frailty and the frailties of technologies. This conversation captures but part of the issues presented in the artists’ work: from the particularities of their artistic practice to questions of technology and society, from corporal mapping to digital distortion and choreography, or questions of human-machine interaction. While technology may be used to bring the human flesh into being as a mutable object and subject, fundamental questions as to how does the body become a component of new machines are remarkably explored in artistic practices such as LoCurto and Outcault’s. The body-machine relation is one that expands across all social, libidinal, and technological economies and apparatuses; and in the tension between the organic, the mechanical, the virtual, and the immaterial, we grasp a sense of how these data-formed bodies reveal our most intimate frailties. Questions of what happens to human perception when bodies intermingle with dynamic media fluctuations will continue to be addressed as technologies develop further; so will questions relating to how does one actually grasp the perceptual and ontological transformations of the body. But as we increasingly encounter our mediated doubles, will they help us familiarize ourselves with and accept our faults, deficiencies, and frailties?

Read the interview here

Pipeline. Human trafficking in Italy

Documentary photographer Elena Perlino embarked on a project focusing on the trafficking of Nigerian women to Italy back in 2005. For eight years, she has taken photographs in the Italian cities of Rome, Turin, Naples, Palermo and Genoa, all considered to be major hubs of Nigerian trafficking to Europe. While Pipeline is the culmination of this particular project, Perlino’s work on urban cultures and societal marginals is not new: Lyon: des corps dans la villein particular, a research project on prostitution, city suburbs, and the Algerian travesties is iconic for the photographer’s subtlety in revealing psychological and emotional momentums in her images, the intimacies and frailties of humanness amid most unexpected, degrading, sometimes impossible conditions. Schilt Publishing’s attention to the investigation on Nigerian trafficking is by all means bold, since it is never easy to address the harshness and horrific scenes of the everyday through photography, and many continue to misrepresent the depth of the tragedies and issues at stake or the merits of efforts to reveal them and educate our viewing and our understanding. One commenter in particular has questioned how photographs such as Perlino’s could show the complexities and contradictions of the situations they claim to portray since “photographs, by their very nature, are reductions of complexities and thus not exactly apt at showing them.” The commenter discusses the framing and composition of the photographs and looks at the book as a “document that makes use of very diverse images to highlight a social problem” agreeing it “succeeds” in doing so. For a so-called author of photography books and reviews, comments such as “Some pics were (intentionally, I suppose) blurred, often I had to guess what I was looking at. It would have been helpful had the circumstances of the picture taking been explained” do not only vulgarize the subject, its gravity, and its character, but reveal the intention to aestheticize the image of/and the real, without any understanding of the conditions the photographs were taken under, the context, or the subject. And without any interest, for that matter. Focusing on the irrelevant, the formal, and the conventional, the commenter completely misses any of the photographer’s, subjects’ and book’s effort. Yet this, unfortunately, may reveal more than just an isolated view on the matters.

Pipeline does not look at trafficking through the lens of physical violence and control; instead, it subtly investigates the psychological and emotional pressures, the struggles to survive and the silent scars that most carry throughout their entire lives. To understand the lives these women live – and this photographic documentary – one must plunge deep into how politics, ritualistic beliefs, legislation faults, transnational policies, and poverty each draw distinctive and multilayered contexts that need to be addressed in order to understand the project’s implications. “The local papers call the routes travelled by the sex slaves the pipeline“, says Giuseppe Carrisi in the fragments from his book La fabbrica delle prostitute quoted in the opening of Pipeline. “And to tell the truth there is not much difference between the girls and the oil: both mean big money.” Prostitution and trafficking cannot be understood outside the corrupt, ineffectual institutions and governments, unjust and discriminatory international policies, the Nigerian voodoo and “secret cults”, or the Libyan prostitution rings. Women who ‘borrow’ money to reach the imagined promised land of Europe are most often threatened with death, madness or fatalities if they don’t pay back their debt; magic and fideistic rituals, together with ethnic connections and influential lobbies, are used by Nigerian groups as forms of intimidation and coercion. “Once in Libya, usually Tripoli, the Nigerian girls are usually forced to enter a prostitution ring. This is when Libyan traffickers, the epicentre of the transnational criminal organisation, enter the picture. They are the girls’ passport to Italy: to get them embarked without any hitches there has to be a Libyan to interface with the local police forces that patrol the coasts.” Nigerian “secret cults” are confraternities using voodoo and tribal initiation rites, while also being involved in extremely violent criminal activities, from drug trafficking to fraud and armed robbery; these activities are divided between different ethnic groups: as we learn, Igbo organisations deal with almost all trafficking, while fraud and computer scans are handled by Yoruba groups. Perlino’s photographs do not explicitly reference any of these situations, yet the photographer’s view of landscapes and quotidian rituals in the first part of the book leave the viewer with a sense of difference, disquiet, and concern. Images of the landscape or settings such as a bar mix with glimpses into the intimacy of apartments, daily routines and isolated situations to reveal the fragmented and distorted living conditions these women must face upon their arrival in Italy.

Read the full review here

Conversations Around Moving Image Istanbul 2014

On March 5, 2015, Moving Image art fair opened again in New York to offer its visitors a unique viewing experience and the vitality of a fair by featuring a selection of international commercial galleries and non-profit institutions presenting single-channel videos, single-channel projections, video sculptures, and other large video installations. The fair’s curatorial board includes Paula Alzugaray (independent curator, São Paulo, Brazil), Robert D. Bielecki(collector and president of the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation), Alice Gray Stites (21c Museum Director, Louisville, KY), Sylvain Levy (professor at Shanghai University, art collector specialised in Chinese Contemporary Art, DSLcollection, Paris, France), and Arja Miller (chief curator, KIASMA Museum, Helsinki, Finland).

This event took place only six months after the fair’s edition in Istanbul, September 25-28, 2014, where anti-utopias was invited for an exclusive take on the fair and the participants. Following my conversation with Edward Winkleman and Murat Orozobekov, the co-founders of Moving Image, I discussed with some of the participants about the relevance of the Moving Image art fair and the uniqueness of video as an artistic medium: with Paula Alzugaray (independent curator, São Paulo, Brazil) and Sabine Brunckhorst (collector, Hamburg, Germany) about their perspective on the fair from a curator’s and a collector’s perspective, and with gallerists Serra Pradhan (Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, NY, USA), Catharine Clark (Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, CA, USA), Barbara Polla(Galerie Analix Forever, Paris, France), Catlin Moore (Mark Moore Gallery, Culver City, CA, USA), Wagner Lungov (CENTRAL Galeria de Arte, São Paulo, Brazil), Nancy Atakan(5533, Istanbul, Turkey), Lise Li (Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai, China), Kelani Nichole(TRANSFER, Brooklyn, NY, USA), Asli Sumer (.artSümer, Istanbul, Turkey), and Feza Velicangil (Sanatorium, Istanbul, Turkey) about their perspective on the fair and video as an artistic medium.

 

Sabin BorsWhat were your choices for the fair and what was the decisive factor to choose these specific works? Do they reflect a broader context or did you focus your selection on specific aspects?

Paula Alzugaray: Nino Cais is a very contemporary artist, in the sense that he experiments different procedures and languages to deal with his big issue: the mediation between body and space. Paradoxically (and precisely because of that), his video pieces dialogue in a profound way with the Brazilian first generation of moving image artists. This aspect gives his work a fertile complexity, representative of the contemporary state of Brazilian art.

Sabine Brunckhorst: The works I selected share in common that they have irritating aspects and a kind of mysterious character for me, initialising and leaving open spaces for new views and thoughts. Besides this, they all have a graphic, drawing-like dimension and soundtracks that interested me. Technologia by Mounir Fatmi is a work that attracted me immediately by creating a distance unto all normal viewing habits and opening up a new space. Being less familiar with seeing arabic ornaments, this brings another interesting aspect for me. In reference to art history, it reminds me of early Len Lye works, which I appreciate very much. The rapid change of the drawings reminded me of stroboscopic effects, demanding increased attention. It also reminded me of one of Carsten Nicolai’s earlier works, Rota. Rob Carter’s Sun City relates to my interests in architecture and its history. The combination of photographic material and collage-like animation, symbols, abstraction and reality forms a narrative that can be seen under environmental, architectonical aspects, but can also be enjoyed as a surprising story. Works on abandoned places have an important place in my collection, hence my immediate interest in Allard van Hoorn’s 001 Urban Songline... The outside view on the building, then showing its emptiness inside, already brings up thoughts about the possible history of the building. The skater’s choreography, drawing lines with his board and leaving graphics on the ground, inspires new life to this space. The changing perspectives and the strong soundtrack also lead to a very special viewing rhythm.

Sabin BorsDo you think a collector’s choices might provide an alternate perspective compared to a curator’s selection? If so, in what way? What are the things you are looking for at an artwork, from a collector’s point of view?

Sabine Brunckhorst: Alternate, no, I don’t think so. It is just a totally different thing, as I do not have the complete exhibition in mind and do not create any kind of choreography. Artworks must interest me for a long period of time, since I never sold a piece so far. Beauty or attractiveness alone are not reasons enough to buy a piece. They should disturb me. Sometimes I fall immediately in love with a piece, sometimes I really don’t like it at the beginning, but cannot get it out of my head. Then it also must fit into my collection.

Read the interviews here

Digicalyptic Realities, or The Frolic of the Flat. (Unabbreviated)

In his famous interpretation of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, Hans Belting reminds us what Bosch’s work attempted in the first place: to establish “a form of art that had not existed before.” While it is arguably one of the greatest works in the history of art, tantalising the fantasies of generations, its subversive fictional narrative continues to depict a world so different like no other: another era and another place. Bosch’s visual narrative avoids traditional iconography with such a remarkably modern freedom that the work continues to be enigmatic and suspicious even to the eyes of our times; and it remains almost unmatched by any contemporary endeavour to capture the imagination of an Age. An almost punctual contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, Bosch’s paintings could not have been more strange to the predominant spirit of the Italian Renaissance, creating an imagery of unrivaled individuality still rooted in the Gothic.

What we have come to call The Garden of Earthly Delights was known in the late sixteenth century as Lust or Strawberry Painting, unveiling the millennial frailty and wickedness of humanity in an unprecedented way. Yet what set Bosch aside from any of the medieval artists is his vision over the symbology of the times, an unreal space rendered with new techniques of pictorial representation. Strange realities develop in front of our eyes, from human figures to burning buildings, from demons and unfitting objects to the most bizzarely tangible presences, all depicted with a tender precision and a sense of form that translates the artist’s unbounded imagination. But Renaissance painting marks the incipit of a fascination for the technically produced images of photography, cinematography and contemporary media. The differences from the images of digital media lie in the difficulty to produce pictural images, because part of the sociocultural conventions and codings are absorbed by the functioning rules of apparatuses before becoming technical rules. The Garden of Emoji Delights, however, is more than a mere contemporary interpretation of Bosch’s masterpiece; what sets it apart from the works of other artists who have reinterpreted the works of the ‘s-Hertogenbosch master is an underlying discussion of both the post-pictural medium and what signs, images and codes are in the actual use of society. The ‘truth’ of signs and images relates to the socio-cultural conventions that define the codings instituted by the physiological mechanisms of visual perception; it is their quality of socially and culturally coded signs that bestows prestige upon them.

In her 2011 panorama project Robbi Carni, Gannis had already anticipated the strangeness of the profiles in the Emoji Garden. A fifteen feet by three-quarter foot digital drawing created with a stylus and a tablet, Robbi Carni unveils a carnivalesque realm of freakish and deformed figures bursting out into the streets, where oppositions and hierarchies collapse: hybrid humans, street culture elements, robotic clowns and exo-skeletonized elephants, sexualized animals and predominantly technological objects commingle into a dazzling canvas where laughter and horror speak of a new state of being. Everywhere, human-balloons float above like demons flying over sceneries of technoculturalized environs. These intermingled objects and hybrid humans reveal our fascination for the power they hold over us, like a projected reflection of our most intimate fantasies affecting us from the outside. Nature and machine create a techno carnival culture – the feast of hybrid fools. Socio-political hierarchies and constructions are profaned here and overturned by the howling manifestation of object, hybrid and machine. While opposites are mingled, fools never become wise and kings never become beggars: everyone dwelves into the jolly celebration the profanity of which challenges our social, cultural and political status. It is a world of disoriented ontology and disharmonic metaphysics.

Read the essay here

A Post-Scriptum: TechNoBody, or The Realisations of Virtuality

Artists have always been among the first to reflect on the culture and technology of their time. In TechNoBody, visitors are presented with multiple psychologies of carnality and technological conditionings: a faulty and almost obsolete body in the work of Cynthia Lin, a ‘virtual’ competition between self and avatar in Carla Gannis’s The Runaways, the inescapable entrapment of the body within the medium in Claudia Hart’s dark kNight, extending neuronal anatomies in the work of Laura Splan, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee’s ‘virtualization’ of space and the participative intimacies in the work of Christopher Baker, or the personalized habitations of the datascape as assembled cyborgs in Victoria Vesna’s work. We are confronted with a very inner ‘second nature’ which challenges perceptive and cultural (in)formation and communication, as these confluent bodies are involved in a transversal dialogue that probes philosophical issues of corporal existence as well as the separateness and likeness of ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ bodies. Meanings and meta-meanings are often created through failed corporal appropriations. As such, these confluent bodies present the viewer with different understandings of the technologically-mediated agency these bodies hold as autonomous ‘characters’ and social beings who could at any time assume a life of their ‘virtual’ own.

In its almost instructional character, the exhibition is successful in revealing how different artistic processes manifest in the age of information technologies. The works do not explore the ‘intelligence’ of technologies in the arts but instead create space for a shared presence of the body in different artistic contexts and an exploration of how imagination and pre-formatted information (co-)operate a doubling of environments. This is most evident in Carla Gannis’s The Runaways, as the competition between the artist and her avatar places them both in different contexts and blurs the line between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ to create a space that is virtually real. In her seminal work Digital Art, Christiane Paul has already stated that our virtual existence suggests the opposite of a unified, individual body, as multiple selves seem to inhabit mediated realities; Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, has described online presence as a multiple, distributed, time-sharing system. However, TechNoBody preserves a strong sense of individuality and physicality, as evidenced in the works of Claudia Hart, Carla Gannis, Laura Splan, or Cynthia Lin; and it is this sense of physicality that might counterbalance and decenter the drive for the ‘digitisation’ of life.

After more than a decade since its first publication, Christiane Paul’s Digital Art continues to reflect some of the most pressing questions and ideas, showing how digital technologies have been most prominent in the decentering of the subject and the constant ‘reproduction’ of the self without body. Paul stresses that relations between virtual and physical existence unveil complex interplays affecting our understanding of both the body and (virtual) identity. To my own surprise, however, the impulse to re-address questions about man-machine symbiosis in order to explore artists’ opinions about technological enhancements and extended bodies has made me ask myself whether this vital question is properly addressed. Carla Gannis’s answer in particular, that human essence cannot be reduced to sheer mechanics and programming, and that we must think of a more symbiotic relationship that could trigger a complex consciousness arising in our technologies to challenge the anthropocentric perspective of man as the most intelligent life form on this planet [read above], epitomizes both the vitality and complexity of the issue. Can one read in this a resilient synthesis of humanist, essentialist, progressist, and ecologist perspectives? As shown by Paul, digital art projects have shown remarkable inclination towards notions of the cyborg, the extended body, and the posthuman, revealing the various extents to which humans have been prosthetic bodies and cyborgs throughout centuries, by constructing ‘machines’ which could manipulate their limbs. At the same time, online environments seem to replicate this by allowing multiple possibilities to remake the body and create digital counterparts “released from the shortcomings and mortal limitations of our physical ‘shells.’” When discussing Victoria Vesna’s Bodies, Inc., where visitors can create their own (cyber)self as expression of an ‘incorporated body’ which gains new significances with the rise of e-commerce and the ways our data-bodies and online behaviours are tracked, Paul notes that in projects such as this, as well as in the now almost obsolete chat rooms or multi-user environments, the exchange is always mediated by the gaze of the computer, in a confrontation of reflections and online representations reminiscent of the motif of the mirror reflection. It may, of course, be argued that issues of virtual identities and disembodiment in relation to the body, objects, and materiality, together with human-machine interaction involving the materiality of the interfaces and their effects on the body, or networked communication as a form of “disembodied intimacy” detached from the realm of the primal senses and allowing for fluid transitions between “different states of materiality,” are characteristic of a culture of acceleration and can therefore be interpreted under specific politics of time. The intrinsically virtual forms of manifestation define technologies of communication and exchange that have shaped human interactions in capitalized democracies.

Read the essay here

Virtually Real. Conversations On TechNoBody – Part I

On January 23, 2015, TechNoBody opened at Pelham Art Center in New York, a group exhibition exploring “the mediated world’s impact on and relationship to the physical body in an increasingly virtual world.” Presenting works by seven artists working with a variety of media, TechNoBody investigates the perceptions and experiences of the body but also the immixture of technological and scientific concepts in the language of art. From Claudia Hart’s critique of digital technology and the misogyny of gaming and special effects media to Carla Gannis’s performance video where the artist competes with her virtual self; from Cynthia Lin’s monumental drawings detailing minuscule portions of skin to Laura Splan’s mixture of scientific and domestic in molecular garments and Joyce Yu-Jean Lee’s challenge of conventional viewing perspectives; from Christopher Baker’s examination on participative media to Victoria Vesna’s collaborative project on social networking, identity ownership and the idea of a “virtual body” – the show guides the viewer through an array of captivating approaches that challenge not only current media ideologies but also conceptual paradigms underlying today’s digital art, the question of disembodiment and post-humanism in particular.

In this interview with curator Patricia Miranda and artists Claudia Hart, Carla Gannis, Victoria Vesna, Laura Splan, Cynthia Lin, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, and Christopher Baker, my aim was to highlight the different perspectives on technology and the body as seen by the artists themselves in their work. In the first part of the interview, curator Patricia Miranda explains the curious nomenclature of the show and her choice of works to be presented; the artists themselves discuss the title of the exhibition in relation to their work, the works of other artists in the show and their views on the idea of virtuality; and conceptual discussions are carried around the idea of skin, culturally constructed meanings, pictorial spaces, virtual environments, the aesthetics of navigation, or corporate mannerisms. The second part of the interview further investigates gaming technologies and iconography, corporal faults, embodied knowledge, participative media, human-machine relations, cyber feminism, virtual communities, corporate marketing, avatars and data bodies, to conclude with a post-scriptum to the discussions titled TechNoBody, or The Realisations of Virtuality.

 

Sabin BorsPatricia, I would start by asking you to please explain the title of the exhibition.

Patricia Miranda: The title TechNoBody evolved during the process of developing a thesis for this exhibition. Last spring I curated an exhibition called STEAM: Art, Science and Technology(The acronym STEAM is based around the initiatives in the United States for the core curricula in education, which focuses on the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, and the movement to include art to make it STEAM). The exhibition featured thirty-one artists including two collaborative teams, whose work ranged from artists interrogating the aspirational and dystopian ideas around new technologies, artists exploring environmental challenges and solutions related to the use of technology, to artists employing technology as a poetic tool, like paint or plaster. Some distinct themes arose for me during that exhibition. As I considered contemporary notions around technology in relation to my curatorial work as well as my own art practice, I was struck by how technology always seemed to refer to “new” technology, i.e. computers, video etc. I wanted to expand this notion. Another was how technology has historically changed the way our physical bodies interface with the world around us, mediating, often creating distance between our bodies and the world around us, making us seem separate from nature. Technology has utopian and aspirational tendencies, for good and for ill ends, and seems to answer our desire for transcendence from the physical, freedom from the body, a new fountain of youth, the imperfect self uploaded to faultless machine. It extends our physical bodies beyond the skin, connecting us to information and people in ways previously impossible, while opening doors for the dystopian world of surveillance and corporate appropriation of our most private desires. And despite technology, in truth we still exist in bodies, bodies that age, wrinkle, sustain injury and illness, and eventually die, bodies that reveal our cultural circumstance of place, race, gender, and privilege. The fragile real maintains a hold; the digital still presents in the physical. Our bodies are still ephemeral. And, despite its promise of the eternal life, technology is also ephemeral. We become beholden to its constant updating, planned obsolescence, and redundancy as new products come rushing down the line.

Read the interview here

Virtually Real. Conversations on TechNoBody – Part II

This interview is a continuation of the discussion with curator Patricia Miranda and artists Claudia Hart, Carla Gannis, Victoria Vesna, Laura Splan, Cynthia Lin, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, and Christopher Baker around the TechNoBody exhibition opened on January 23, 2015, at Pelham Art Center in New York which explores “the mediated world’s impact on the relationship to the physical body in an increasingly virtual world.” While the first part of the interview addressed the show’s nomenclature, the selection of works, the artists’ views on the idea of virtuality and various ideas related to culturally constructed meanings, pictorial spaces, virtual environments, the aesthetics of navigation, or corporate mannerisms – the discussions continue here by investigating gaming technologies and iconography, corporal faults, embodied knowledge, participative media, human-machine relations, cyber feminism, virtual communities, corporate marketing, avatars and data bodies.

 

Sabin BorsClaudia, your latest body of works is focused on the use of software and gaming technologies filtered through feminist perspectives. It continues what I always appreciated about your work, namely the juxtaposition of several aesthetics corresponding to opposing ideologies. How do video games impact the aesthetics of contemporary art, in your opinion, and how can feminism subvert these technologies to propose refined, alternative perspectives?

Claudia Hart: I think that first-person-shooter games embody the qualities of the corporations that produce them. Several years back, the US Supreme Court endowed corporations with the constitutional rights of a human being. Organizations based on profit motive were put on par with the human! This blew my mind. Shooter-games treat human avatars as objects, objects to be consumed and annihilated.

My idea of feminist practice is a deeply Humanistic one. I think of feminism as a form of resistance to the tendency of dominant culture to dehumanize others. In reaction, my representations are of very humanized avatars. I want them to express the pain of being and the vulnerability of the body; I want them to express their anxiety about dying within a virtualized artificial space. I’m not sure if my spaces are specifically game spaces, although game spaces are certainly a version of a virtual environment. In Patricia’s show, my workDark kNight and On Synchronics – a related collective work done by 24 of my former students and I – both portray an avatar transmogrifying and being battered in a virtual world. I want viewers to feel its pain and also to be moved by its death. It’s my point of resistance to the dehumanization of corporatized media.

Sabin BorsYou create corporal landscapes that question a series of issues such as gender, identity, beauty, or mortality. Did you also build these corporal landscapes to subvert the conventions of the artistic nude, Cynthia? If so, in what way? What do our corporal faults tell about our bodies and the history of body representations?

Cynthia Lin: Really great observations! Traditionally, the nude was a female presented for the enjoyment of the male viewer. It was also the artist’s means of “possessing” the woman. I aspire to subvert or newly define what “enjoyment” can be, as well as to challenge the traditional gender roles. The hyper-detailed depiction could be seen as a means of “possessing” or owning the image… but it also hints at the question of who owns digital images. The sense of power or possession usually claimed by the artist/viewer might be given over to a sense of wonder for the power of technology – the abundance of pixels. Furthermore, as far back as the Egyptians and Greeks, the body was depicted in its idealized form, and further, as a metaphor for the ideal. Corporal faults were minimized, even in specific representations. I am interested in the strong sense of self-identification that all viewers experience when viewing depictions of the body. Rather than a simple pleasure, though, I seek discomfort and heightened awareness, which is a more complicated kind of pleasure. I aspire to make work that encourages an acceptance of discomfort and a curiosity for strangeness.

Read the interview here

Swapping Identities. A Conversation with Claudia Hart

Sabin BorsYour work was first inspired by the utopian architecture of the 18th century, and then in the 1990s you began working on iconographies of the virtual female and the female body. How did these two topics influence your work and medium of expression? How do they relate?

Claudia Hart: My interest in Utopian architecture began after I graduated from architecture school in the early eighties. In school, I studied the visionary architecture of the French enlightenment by LeDoux and Boullee. I attended a very conceptually oriented architecture school, Columbia University in NY, and most of my professors were paper architects themselves, meaning they built very little, but mainly worked with propositional forms. So it was a natural way for me.

When I finished school, I started writing criticism and was asked, along with another young writer, to reformulate the magazine ID, the old industrial design journal from the fifties. We both became editors of that historic journal when we were quite young, in our late twenties. Our idea was to make a magazine that hybrid art, design and technology, something like an American Domus. I therefore began researching cognitive science and models of the mind and computer science, which lead me directly back to the 18th century Enlightenment paradigms of “reason” and of “unreason,” and the historic polemic between Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In my first art works that I started making around the same time, exhibited with the Pat Hearn Gallery in the East Village in the mid eighties, I actually transformed myself into Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In the course of this research I also discovered the work of Jean Jacques Lequeu. He was another 18th century paper architect whose works were erotic: a kind of architectural equivalent to the Marquee De Sade. A monograph had recently been published on Lequeu, written by Philippe Duboy, a radical French art historian who proposed Lequeu as a “folie” that he “proved” was actually a forgery produced by Marcel Duchamp when he worked at the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris as a young man. Lequeu designed architectural décor featuring him in drag enacting various forms of a self stylized drag porn. I was completely captivated and started drawing obsessional self-portraits in his style, using hard drafting pencils and making very refined pictures in extreme detail.

In 1991, I did an exhibit in Paris of related works, and amazingly, Phillipe Duboy actually came to the show, recognized my practice as related to Lequeu, and invited me to lunch in his apartment in the 13th arrondisement. It was the beginning of a friendship that completed my formation. When I started working with 3D animation, it was because I felt it was the perfect embodiment of the many of the issues driving my work up until then. I was totally seduced by the mathematical computer model underlying it, and the possibility of using them to create images that have an uncanny and very artificial sense of reality. 3D seemed to visually merge the qualities of reason and of unreason. So I used it create erotica in the form of impossible, uncanny, female bodies that seem to work like clockwork.

Sabin BorsSome critics have insisted on the “utopian” character of the landscapes you create. What is the role of this utopian referent in your art?

Claudia Hart: I don’t think of them as utopian. I think of the space of my work as a site of the uncanny, a world which is both dead and alive at the same time, that is both yes and no. I imagine my environments as mind models, but ones that are filled with paradoxes and contradictions and are somewhat perverse. I also want them to be mesmerizing and to lull the viewer into a contemplative, hypnotic state, so to be a space of reverie.

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Sensory Geographies. A Conversation with Kurt Hentschläger

Sabin BorsYour art describes a meditative and aesthetic experience, a passage through the void of representations, a momentum where senses recalibrate perception. How does your work “imagine” without being representation?

Kurt Hentschläger: This refers to one series of my work mostly, particularly FEED and ZEE, in which the focus lies on the absence of representation and familiar cues for orientation. In our regular daily experience it’s almost impossible to pause the realm of representation; we are entrenched in it and rely on it as much as time moving forward.

That said, what I am attempting in my work is an articulation of a representational void, in staging a “collapsed” space, stimulated by both a sensory override and – overload. A simultaneous impression of both absence and abundance in many visitors instills a feeling of inexplicable joy. Partially, I feel this is triggered by the intense, encompassing light, but also because most visitors report an experience with no prior cognitive reference or label and thus, for a moment, feel immersed in pure abstraction.

Sabin BorsThe physical screens you use for some of your works create an intimate screen that we pass through in order to perceive ourselves in our most intimate nature. How does a screen create an active perceptive field where passive viewers internalize their experiences?

Kurt Hentschläger: The screen or canvas dissipates as such in the very moment we emotionally connect to the work on display, by feeling a resonance to and with the work in either an emotive or cerebral manner, ideally both. So the passive viewer persists only as long as she or he feels no personal attraction to the work. The screen can be seen as a membrane that fades out the moment an intimate dialogue between the viewer and the work itself ensues.

Apart from that basic principle, in Cluster, and most of my “Body” body of work the screen is part of a projected architecture (behind it), in that it becomes the front glass end of an artificial 3D space, similar to an aquarium tank. So from the viewer’s perspective it is as much about looking into something as onto something. Reaching through the screen is an extension of the physical space the viewer inhabits and so a sense of inhabiting a common space is suggested. Also the screen is not just a visual screen, but an equally important part of the work is sound, diffused in the given space via multiple loud speakers. Dedicated sub-bass, at the low frequency end of sound, adds as physical rumble that both envelops and moves the visitor’s bodies.

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Constructed Aims. A Conversation with Sabine Schründer

Sabin BorsYour photographic art is an ongoing discussion of the link between the individual and danger, (self-)control, (in)security, intrusion… What made you choose this subject matter and how did it become the core issue of your work?

Sabine Schründer: It’s interesting you should say that about the core issue, because my focus is really about the dynamics that exist between systems and the individual – our constant urge to change, to escape from stagnation and isolation, to address the various challenges of Being. But you’re absolutely right. The need for security, self-control and intrusion are all elements of this, especially since we can no longer avoid issues such as fear and security policies. That’s why my approach to the question of security, control and intrusion in all of my works is at times remote and analytical and at other times more personal. In both cases the images are my interpretation of several partial aspects of current realities and the individual confrontation with the values and structures of modern society.

Sabin BorsIsolation is a recurrent motif in your art. Although interaction is always direct, there is evidence of separation, deviation, anonymity, oblivion… What is your understanding of the relation between oblivion and our need to feel safe?

Sabine Schründer: Fear is probably everyone’s weak spot and hence a perfect target for politics and economics. We all have this need for security and I don’t mean wanting to live in a police state. I’m talking about the protection afforded by relatedness and faith — even if it’s “only” faith in ourselves. Despite our numerous daily interactions, we all have that feeling of isolation, a longing for the safe haven of quietude and confidence. We tremble at the fine line that bounds our sense of optimism and our fear regarding the futility of our own accomplishments. And then, there’s also a skepticism that accompanies a shifting consensus between the Self and the social.

Sabin BorsYour search entails exploring the intangible. Your art is never about immediate, palpable danger, but rather about subliminal, more intimate fears. Do you think the intangible is more powerful than the discernible? Is the inner state more shocking than external conditions or is there a direct link between the two?

Sabine Schründer: The visible and therefore the tangible is a key source of orientation in the attempt to grasp real connections. The greatest challenge for me is to approach the non-visible, to tackle latent emotional states and express these intangibles in such a way that, although a statement is made, it is elusive and may leave gaps and questions in its wake. Perhaps it leaves something unsettled, a see-saw between intuition and evanescence. I have found that circling this indefinable is in itself a source. Focusing on the intangible, emotional, sensual and psychological is my method of visualizing real conditionsOther artists achieve this by producing documentary work. Valuable as that method is, if I work like that I always think: this is not my point, I’m interested in what lies underneath, in something that cannot be photographed. Of course there’s a connection between the inner and outer worlds. Fear and other disturbing emotions you are asking about are rarely triggered by external, tangible, explicable circumstances but often by the intangible, the absent and the inner unknown.

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Moving the Image. A Conversation with Murat Orozobekov and Edward Winkleman

Sabin BorsHow did you first start Moving Image and how do you see the project retrospecively, in light of its achievements so far? What was the impetus for such a fair and how do you see its future developments?

Edward Winkleman: Moving Image evolved out of two experiences we had as dealers. First was a London art fair we participated in at which a major New York art critic flew past our booth (in which we had three video artworks), saying “I never watch video at art fairs. I don’t have time.” The other experience was visiting the “California Video” exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where the curator, Glenn Phillips, had done a great job of presenting a large number of works in a context that still respected the intentions of each of the artists in the show. We combined these ideas – that people don’t feel they have time to watch video at an art fair and that it’s possible to present a large number of videos within a modest space, without compromising on how the viewer experiences the work – and launched the first Moving Image in New York in 2011. We continue to fine tune the model with each edition of the fair. We like to believe that Moving Image has helped raised awareness about how much of contemporary art involves moving-image technology and in particular how absent it tends to be among more traditional fairs, given how many artists are working in the medium.

Sabin BorsWhat does it take to make a fair dedicated exclusively to video art? What were the challenges for you and what are the long-term challenges?

Murat Orozobekov: Every art fair has its own challenges, and those vary for regional versus international art fairs. Because there are so many contemporary art fairs (over 200 a year), there is an average of 3 to 4 art fairs somewhere every weekend now. I believe most of the standard art fairs will face challenges in the future gathering participating galleries to join them, and more importantly in getting collectors, curators and visitors to attend the fair. No one can travel every weekend to see every art fair. Unless it’s a specific or thematically curated art fair that is unique and stands out compared to others, it becomes more of the same. As for Moving Image, I believe we already have established that Moving Image is a unique art fair and it’s a curated art fair. More importantly it’s not conceived to be in direct competition with any other art fairs; we consider it as complimentary to more traditional fairs. Working closely with ArtInternational in Istanbul this year, for example, we started our conversations about how best to collaborate early. We’re having similar conversations with a few other art fair directors in other cities and hope to be able to announce soon.

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Proportional Exchanges. A Conversation with Vera Hofmann

Sabin BorsI would like to start this conversation by discussing your approach to art, given that you’re employing so many means of expression and so many different subjects, from technology to politics. How would you describe your art and your relation to the subjects you discuss?

Vera Hofmann: The various means of expression I embrace correspond to my interest in all of these topics. My artistic approach stems from an open realm, out of which I scoop thematic possibilities I consider valuable towards a discourse. Mainly the topics I explore are situated within a socio-critical and political context, paired with personal experiences. So there is a stream of personal works about death, cancer, remains of people, home and belongings, and another stream which is about intuition and aesthetic constructions. (The latter is a rather long-term occupation of mine, one that I revisit from time to time) And then sometimes there are little discoveries on the side that turn into works, like the piece Something went wrong. But what has mostly driven my work lately is a concern for economical, political and environmental issues.

I consider the starting point for a new work to be always the topic, followed by choice of medium and form. I am educated as a photographer but I am more and more integrating video and installation into my work, as evidenced in my new collaboration with Sabine Schründer, called Benten Clay (www.bentenclay.com). I am currently rethinking my role as an artist, as I question the relationships between the personal and the political in terms of responsibility, which, from my point of view, are capable of contributing forms of output that matter. It is an opaque area of investigation, one that, I guess, will become clearer over time, if only intermittently.

Sabin BorsIn Vakuumresonanz you started from a white room and no concept. Why did you refuse the concept? How does a concept influence a work of art?

Vera Hofmann: Of course the statement of having no concept was in a way totally conceptual. I rented this studio for 3 months knowing I wanted to use photography as a final medium for the work. In it, I allowed myself to let anything happen that could possibly happen. At this time I was researching energy, alternative medicine, oscillation and quantum theory. To learn that in a vacuum—the so-called nothingness—existing molecules start vibrating and building matter was very intriguing to me. The conclusion of my research at that point was that the basis for all human life, for diseases, for communication, for natural principles and so on is oscillation. The possibility that everything is connected with everything was totally new to my mind, which was purely trained on rationality. So, inspired by that, I set up this field-experiment condition. To that extent, it was a conceptual approach. Every step that came after this decision was a free flow. I did not refuse the concept but rather a direct subject and message. This series does not want anything. It is just there. And people can pick it up or not. So for me it was an important lesson in letting go of control.

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Artistic Operations. A Conversation with Annett Zinsmeister

Sabin Bors: Which are the architectural utopias you make reference to in your work and how do they reflect on our current understanding of the built space? What is the relevance of the Plattenbau typology today?

Annett Zinsmeister: In 2000 I started to work on the history of spatial utopias and published several texts and books. I tried to figure out the concept of the utopian thinking from the first literal descriptions in Ancient Greece until the 20th century, as well as its correspondence to built architecture and urban planning. This research led me to the discovery of utopian role models and typologies for spatial constructions that came up over centuries in philosophy, literature, arts and architecture, and are the basis of built cities like Freudenstadt in Germany or Arcosanti in the Arizona desert, USA – to mention only two examples.

In this context, the architecture of socialist Plattenbau is very interesting. Plattenbau architecture represents the dichotomy of utopia. It is based on the socialist promise “Jedem EINE jedem SEINE Wohnung” (for everyone his own apartment) and as a site-unspecific global architecture (ou-topos), it embodies the promise to feel at home in a where ever you stay in the world, as far as it is a Plattenbau in which you grew up. At the same time, this monumental mass architecture stands for the politics of repression and a massive social control.

Sabin Bors: How do utopia and repression contribute to a socio-political coding of reality?

Annett Zinsmeister: Utopian concepts historically arise from a criticism of existing ratios. They represent the design of alleged ideal opposite worlds. These mental or literally constructed visions of a better world are related to the existing society and the socio-political conditions at their time. The realization of those concepts mostly failed in bringing the repressive methods of these utopian concepts into light. Therefore, I am talking about a dichotomy of utopia.

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Intermediate Perceptions. A Conversation with PLANETE MIRAGE

The works of PLANETE MIRAGE are based on theoretical and practical elements that reconsider landscapes and mediums as a way to investigate past and future histories in the context of modernity. The artists create landscapes and mediums where man’s relation to the natural or artificial environment suffers transformations through which one can observe their potentiality. The artists’ attention to the various scales and materials allows them to create a meta-historical approach where science fiction and the archaic meet together to compete with the immediate reality and the social, cultural or historical data through which man consolidates an overall vision of the living space.

 

Sabin Bors: What is, in your opinion, the relation between sociocultural contexts, natural conditions and architectured spaces? How does the concept of space influence history and how does space geography influence mental geographies?

PLANETE MIRAGE: The social and cultural particularities are often technical and aesthetical, but the stakes remain the same across the globe. Humans had to exploit the environment, make fire, cultivate, build, arm themselves and outline sacred spaces. The distribution of materials across the planet and the techniques needed to use them have shaped the history of people and the history of art. Materials correspond to primitive functions: to cut down the trees, to carve the stones, to mold the earth. We are fascinated by common forms such as the cairns (which are piles of pebble) that we find throughout the world to beacon the path to follow in nature, or the high voltage lines which are similar across all continents. We are interested in built forms the meaning of which surpasses the social and cultural particularities because of the fact they reflect another dimension. They are archetypes, recognizable forms which enter the real space but also serve as reference in our mental representations. They can serve as a support for our projections. 

Sabin Bors: How do you interpret current architectural forms in relation to natural or archaic forms?

PLANETE MIRAGE: When the humans got out of the caves, they’ve made solid constructions with calibrated forms from the brick to the beam. They got rid of the aleatory, irregular forms produced by nature and applied to geometry, technique and aesthetics. They’ve transformed the raw mineral element into bricks, the caves into cathedrals. The confrontation of these different registers is in fact present in the whole of our work; it is the case of Panorama, for example. This piece integrates the norm, the calibrated object created for building perfect geometrical structures, but also its bewitched original medium. The cinder block issued from the chain of production  makes reference to the chain of mountains, the mineral realm and eternity. It is the union of the urban and romantic landscapes. The mason’s quick gesture has replaced the stonecutter’s gesture and the frantic rhythm of modern constructions opposes the time of erosion.

The ancient architectural forms were signs in the natural environments. Their materials and techniques allowed for the creation of forms that marked out the territories. Constructions define the limits between humans and their natural environment.

One of the things at stake in modern architecture is the relation between the building and the environment which tends to reduce this rupture between nature and the manufactured, sometimes up to imitating the organic. Modern architectural forms sometimes come to integrate different dimensions such as the natural and the artificial, the archaic and the futuristic, as they are characterized by a mix of references, registers and materials which co-exist at the heart of the same building. This mix is no longer the result of the evolution of superposing architectural styles, but the fruit of the architect’s intention underlying the conception of the building. Modern constructions give evidence to a freedom of appropriation and interpretation of extremely varied pre-existent forms. It is these forms that interest us most because they correspond to a hybrid form we are looking for in our work. The integration of various registers such as ancient / modern or natural / artificial corresponds to one of our most intense preoccupations.

In this sense, the current forms we are exploring are not purely architectural, they are often constructions, objects, monuments or common forms less visible when they are too disseminated throughout the territory. The most intense are those the form of which allows various slippings towards another sense, on the scale of time: radars, telescopes (which allow us to obtain images of a world that’s invisible to the naked eye), the museums which garner the works of art (which are images of our world). For us, the giant telescopes are representative architectures of the relation between image and space, and the mediating function of the image between the sky and the earth. These monumental forms turned towards the stars are today’s sacred temples, protected and inaccessible except for the scientists, the guardians of the Real.

In direct relation with these preoccupations, we’ve been deeply touched by that which comes the closest to being a modern cathedral: Anish Kapoor’s Le Léviathan, presented at the Grand Palais in Paris on the occasion of Monumenta 2012. This work reconciles the formal aspects that define contemporary design or architecture: the technical and technological features serve to build a space which seems futuristic from the outside through the brilliancy of its matter and its form between molecule and spaceship. The interior offers a strange sensory experience inside a monumental space which could be a temple, but also a foetal matrix or an organic cave. It is a work that integrates antagonistic space and time dimensions.

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