Goood morning!!! I’m back!

Goood morning!!! I’m back!

magical tidying up book & coffee

It’s been a while, eh? 🙂

Anything wild or crazy happen with y’all lately?

Some wild stuff happened here – but unfortunately not all in the “fun” department, haha… I just got back from an ER visit this weekend where I found out I have pneumonia (oops), making it the 2nd time at the hospital this month as we were just there when my son decided to crack his head open at the pool! 😦 Fortunately we’re both tough cookies and our health benefits are bonkers ($0 cost for son’s visit where he had to get 5 staples!), but it sure wasn’t the best way to wrap up the summer…

In other more exciting news though, we’re officially all moved in!! And 80% unpacked and living “normally” again! Which I might add is substantially easier to do when you don’t have a day job you need to get to, haha… It’s also helped us to do some good exploring and relaxing in our new town every week, with some days completely forgetting to check email or social media, imagine that?!

In fact, if it weren’t for people asking me when I was coming back to the blog, I’d have thought I was already retired, haha… Which wouldn’t be the best since I very much still need an income 🙂 And plus I started kinda missing y’all and the feeling of productivity.

But the break is now over! Time to get this fiscal party on the road again! And I’ve got a lot of new ideas and mini-epiphanies to share with y’all over the coming weeks, as well as a major announcement and our latest net worth report pre-crash, which I heard something about last week?!

In the meantime, here are a bunch of other little highlights from my time away that may or may not be of interest to you. Would love to hear what you got into over the past 40 days! 🙂

  • Saw the premiere of the Playing With FIRE documentary! It’s really cool, and you should see if it’s playing around your city!
  • We started our wills!! And by “start” I mean we found and contacted a lawyer we like and have almost completed the questionnaire so he has the data needed to get the puppy done once and for all…
  • We saved a bunch of money on our car insurance by switching to Geico moving to Virginia 🙂 Which alone saved us almost $400/year (was also good to update our usage which I’m sure helped as well since we’ll be driving around much less here)
  • We killed the Mrs’ engagement ring insurance ($67/year) after realizing we’ve paid over $700 since getting it, even though it’s no longer important to us! (Another reason to call and do a check-up on your insurances! Never know what’s hiding in there from days gone by.)
  • I bought a bunch of new tools for our lawn and garden which has gotten me more excited about tending to them (more on that later)
  • I re-read a couple of superb books to help keep the mind right: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home (gonna try making my own mustard and lip balm at home from her recipes!)
  • And then in other health-related news/warnings: don’t ever try to pick up a safe on your own and throw out your back for 3 days! 😦 I’ve never once had that happen to me in my 39 years, and WOW is it scary to be so incapacitated like that… Gave me such an appreciation for how important our bodies are, and will no longer go around pretending I’m invincible.

And with that, I’m taking my own advice and getting back to resting up again to finally wipe out this surprise* ailment…

Will see you guys back here tomorrow! Thanks for sticking around while I was out galavanting! 😉 What’s new in your world?!

*Funny story about this pneumonia – I didn’t really know I had it, but my wife woke me up in the dead of night telling me she thinks I’m having a pulmonary embolism and I needed to head to the ER as soon as I woke up later that morning. You can’t really sleep after hearing THAT news though of course, so I quickly shimmied out at 2:30am and got seen, and while in fact Dr. Google did turn out to be quite wrong (thankfully!), they did catch this sneaky affliction which I’m now on meds for… So a) Thanks to all the significant others out there who are always looking out for us boneheads!!!, and b) please don’t wait until your wife has to literally force you out of the bed when something seems awry 😉 It was a happy ending this time around, but it could have ended drastically different!

** Links to books above are Amazon affiliate links


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from Finance

A Dictionary of the American Avant-Gardes

A Dictionary of the American Avant-Gardes, by author and artist Richard Kostelanetz.

On amazon USA and UK.
Publisher Routledge writes: For this American edition of his legendary arts dictionary of information and opinion, the distinguished critic and arts historian Richard Kostelanetz has selected from the fuller third edition his entries on North Americans, including Canadians, Mexicans, and resident immigrants.

Typically, he provides intelligence unavailable anywhere else, no less in print than online, about a wealth of subjects and individuals. Focused upon what is truly innovative and excellent, Kostelanetz also ranges widely with insight and surprise, including appreciations of artistic athletes such as Muhammad Ali and the Harlem Globetrotters, and such collective creations as Las Vegas and his native New York City. Continuing the traditions of cheeky high-style Dictionarysts, honoring Ambrose Bierce and Nicolas Slonimsky (both with individual entries), Kostelanetz offers a “reference book” to be treasured not only in bits and chunks, but continuously as one of the ten books someone would take if they planned to be stranded on a desert isle.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980

William Klein, Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, 1974

Chris Burden, Trans-fixed, 1974 (via)

I never thought i’d ever read a dictionary from A to Z but this one is witty, original and wonderfully opinionated. Plus it’s the abridged version and far easier to digest than a wikipedia entry.

The first edition of this unconventional dictionary was published in 1993 and there’s a good reason why it is still being printed today. Kostelanetz follows his own criteria when it comes to identifying practices and ideas that break rules and pass the test of time. Which means that he often takes you places that you were not expecting.

Carolee Schneemann, Up to and Including Her Limits (documentation of performance), 1976

Tony Schwartz, Sounds of my City (via)

José Guadalupe Posada, Calavera Oaxaqueña

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, 1915. International News Photography Photography © Bettman/Corbis, via

First of all, the timeframe covered by the book is impressive: one moment you read about DJ Spooky. Pages later, you encounter Eadweard Muybridge.

I was also (pleasantly) surprised by the wide array of people he gathers around his understanding of what constitutes the avant-gardes.
There’s Isadora Duncan, Eduardo Kac, Ornette Coleman, Tex Avery and people developing technologies for art at Bell Labs. There’s Erich von Stroheim, Vito Acconci, Rube Goldberg and the Guerrilla Girls. He also sees innovation in the work of art forger Mark Hofmann, the choreography of Muhammad Ali and in Michel Joyce’s pioneering use of hypertext in his literary work. Richard Kostelanetz even contributed an entry about himself.

The author pays homage to artists but also to the works, laws, patrons, agencies and innovations that inspired the avant-gardes and/or created the conditions for its development. The Brooklyn Bridge, the unemployment insurance (1935), the Freedom of Information Act, National Endowment for the Arts (1965) and individuals like Alanna Heiss or Louise and Walter Arensberg. What struck me when i read the dictionary is how many among the actors of the avant-gardes were immigrants. People born abroad who moved to the USA and shaped its art scene.

from Finance

Street Dreams. How Hiphop took over Fashion

While in Rotterdam for the Malware exhibition, i crossed the Museum Park and visited Street Dreams. How Hiphop took over Fashion at Kunsthal Rotterdam.

Christopher Wallace (Biggie) & Sean Combs (Puff Daddy), 1996, Cover image VIBE September 1996 issue. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam, New York

RUN DMC, It’s Tricky, 1986

Hip-Hop is more than a music style, it’s a movement that has left its marks on visual and performative culture. Its influence on fashion is particularly enduring. Sneakers, brash logos, hoodies, oversized clothing, bold gold jewellery and boom boxes on the shoulder. They are all associated with hip-hop and they are still here decades later. Apart from boomboxes. And big logos, unless you’re ironic.

Hip hop is not just in the streets. It’s on catwalks too now. Luxury brands, which used to berate the bootleg culture of hiphop, is embracing some of its ideas and icons. Virgil Abloh, designer of the popular streetwear label Off-White, was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ready wear line last year. Gucci collaborated with hip-hop designer Dapper Dan on a collection back in 2017 (which didn’t prevent the Italian fashion house from selling a blackface sweater a few months later.) Rapper and hip hop producer Pharrell worked together with Chanel and other major fashion houses. I could go on for hours.

Through visual art, photography and video installations, the exhibition ‘Street Dreams: How Hiphop took over Fashion’ show the looks, the codes and the creative force of hip hop, focusing on the origins and underlying philosophy of this street culture.

The exhibition features surprisingly few items of clothing and very little information about the socio-political context in which hip-hop emerged. But it has work by Nick Cave and by Kehinde Wiley. Images by photographers who documented the early years of hip-hop fashion. And of course music. I left the Kunsthal in excellent mood.

I’ll leave you with the works i discovered there:

Nick Cave, Hustle Coat

Janette Beckman, Slick Rick, Manhattan, NYC, 1989. Photo ©Janette Beckman. Courtesy of Fahey-Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

Jannette Beckman, Salt-N-Pepa, NYC, 1987

Jannette Beckman, Jam Master Jay, NYC, 1991

Kehinde Wiley, Saint Amelie, 2014. Courtesy of Templon, Paris & Brussels

Kehinde Wiley is showing one of his monumental works in stained glass. A black young man dressed in streetwear adopts the same pose as the Sainte Amélie that Ingres drew Notre-Dame-de-Compassion Church in Paris. Wiley (who painted the official portrait of Barack Obama) uses the same style and tropes as European artists of the Renaissance but he puts a person of color at the center of the scene, as a modern-day martyr and art history icon.

Jamel Shabazz, A Mother’s Love, Brooklyn, NYC, 1987

Jamel Shabazz, Back in the Days, Lower East Side, Manhattan, NYC, 1982

Jamel Shabazz, Rude Boy, Brooklyn, NYC, 1981

Jamel Shabazz, Young Boys, East Flatbush, Brooklyn, NYC, 1981

Hank Willis Thomas and Kambui Olujimi, Video still Winter in America, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Hank Willis Thomas and Kambui Olujimi, Video still Winter in America, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

The video Winter in America is based on the events leading up to the murder of Songha Thomas Willis, Hank Willis Thomas’s cousin in 2000 in Philadelphia. The story is derived from an interview with the main eye-witness to the crime and notes taken by the victim’s mother during the murder trial. The scenes are recreated using G.I. Joe action figures in stop-motion film technique. The work exposes the breeding and normalization of a culture of violence for young boys who are encouraged to author brutal scenarios before they can even read.

Earlie Hudnall JR., Mr. Shine, 3rd Ward, Houston, TX, 1988

Earlie Hudnall, Gucci Brothers, 3rd Ward, Houston, TX, 1990. Photo ©Earlie Hudnall. Courtesy PDNB Gallery

Djamilla Rosa Cochran, Cam’Ron. Photo: Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage

Dana Lixenberg, Snoop, 1993. From the series Imperial Courts 1993-2015. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam, New York

Dana Lixenberg, Annie II, 1993. From the series Imperial Courts 1993-2015

In 1992, Dana Lixenberg travelled to South Central Los Angeles to photograph a story on the riots that erupted following the acquittal of four LAPD officers filmed viciously beating Rodney King. What Lixenberg encountered there inspired her to revisit that part of the city, and eventually led her to meet a community whose evolution she portrayed over 22 years, focusing thus on individual lives that are ignored unless a tragedy strikes in their midst.

Dana Lixenberg, Untitled (Navajo Nation), 1998. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam, New York

Thomas J Price, Untitled (Icon 2), 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery

Casper Warmoeskerken

Victor D. Ponten, A Trip Down the Memory Block (video still), Big Daddy Kane, 2019

Victor D. Ponten, A Trip Down the Memory Block (video still), Run DMC, 2019

Victor D. Ponten’s video opens the exhibition and features sixty people from Rotterdam, dressed in outfits that symbolize the history of street wear and hip hop fashion.

Public Enemy, Fight The Power, 1989

Salt-N-Pepa, Push It, 1986

The Sugar Hill Gang, Rapper’s Delight, 1979

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, The Message, 1982

Florian Joahn, 2018, model Tino Kamal, styling JeanPaul Paula

Street Dreams: How Hip Hop Took Over Fashion, curated by Lee Stuart, is on view at Kunsthal Rotterdam until 15 September 2019.

from Finance

Turning human waste into beer and fruit trees

Ayumi Matsuzaka‘s work is both magical and literally down to earth. It uses the most mundane material you can think of but it also has the potential to have a big impact on food production and on the protection of the planet in general.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, All My Cycle

Ayumi Matsuzaka, All My Cycle

A few years ago, Matsuzaka started using body waste to make personal soils in which she would grow vegetables, fruits trees and even barley for beer brewing. Her various artistic projects bring valuable nutrients back to the land, close the nutrient cycle of food production and explore a series of issues that are gaining more and more importance today: waste resources, material cycles and energy.

The Future Beer project, for example, saw her installing public toilets at events in Berlin and in Dortmund. The urine of visitors was collected and fed to the barley fields as nutrients. Once ready, the barley was harvested, malted and brewed. The whole process ended with a beer degustation.

The latest iteration of Matsuzaka’s attempts to close the nutrient cycle offers a truly eco-friendly way to dispense with nappies and thus with the 500 kg of waste and 500 kg of CO2 created by the 4,500 diapers used on average by a Western baby.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, DYCLE – The Diaper Cycle

Simply using diapers sold on the market as “bio-degradable” is not the solution as they require specific temperatures and conditions in order to degrade. DYCLE-Diaper Cycle, the system the artist is pioneering, goes much further. It not only turns diaper inlays into fertile soil, it also creates value through the creation of jobs, soil, fruits and a strengthening of the participating local communities.

DYCLE diapers are made of washable outer pants and a compostable inlay. The system is aimed at small neighborhood communities. Parents who participate to the scheme go to a central collecting point every week to bring back soiled inlays and receive fresh ones in exchange.

Ayumi Matsuzaka and her collaborators calculated that baby will produce approximately one ton of black earth every year as long as they use their nappies. Which should provide enough nutrients to plant 1,000 trees. The business model builds on the sale of trees, rather than the cost of diapers.

The natural fertilizer she uses is called Terra Preta, a dark anthropogenic soil used in the Amazon Basin to improve the quality of the soils. Terra preta owes its typically black colour to its charcoal content. Other components of terra preta includes organic matter such as plant residues, animal feces, animal bones and nutrients. The terra preta method has several advantages such as preventing infections caused by parasites and storing more carbon than many other soils.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Future Beer

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Future Beer

I found Ayumi Matsuzaka’s works so stimulating that i asked her if she could tell us more about them:

Hi Ayumi! Some of your artistic project start with human organic waste: urine, hairs, nails, etc to produce something that people can consume. You also do a lot of workshops and actions in which the public is invited to participate to the process with their own time and of course the nutrients produced by their own body. How do people usually react to your proposal? How do you overcome the ‘yuk’ factor, the prejudices and cultural beliefs some people might have that it’s going to be unhygienic or just awful? What makes them want to participate and follow the project?

Most of my action-based projects were made through invitation. There was never any obligation nor need to convince people to take part in the process. The beauty of this invitation is that people often do not know exactly why or how they are going to experience. During the process they discover themselves to being part of an unexpected cycle, such as being part of the nature cycle.

I must say one of 10 people loves this kind of journey 🙂 I must take care of wording. I do not use words such as shit, excretions etc. Instead, I use “Bodily waste”, “your dropping” “your donation” etc. Ha ha ha!

Ayumi Matsuzaka, All My Cycle

Ayumi Matsuzaka, All My Cycle

Ayumi Matsuzaka, All My Cycle

Ayumi Matsuzaka, All My Cycle

What makes urine such a good fertiliser? It sounds so strange to me…

Urine is called “liquid gold”, it contains great nitrogen. Green plants need nitrogen after they germinate in spring.

You can make Terra Preta soil substrate out of it. And easy and traditional East Asian way is to dilute your urine with 10 times of water and gently water your plants. I give you an example: I had an almost died basil in a pot that I bought at a supermarket. I gave this diluted liquid energy gently to it for few days. The basil was brought to life amazingly.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Future Beer – Dortmunder Kreislauf

I had a look at the video of Future Beer Cycle. It looks like you produce beer using urine? How does it work exactly? What is the role of urine in this process and how are its most “unpleasant” components broken down and turned into something safe enough to drink?

Oh please watch the video carefully. You misunderstood. The idea was to use our collected liquid bodily waste (urine) to grow barley as natural fertiliser and produce our own beer. I did not produce beer using urine. People love to mix up every steps but please be careful. I made it for two cities: in Berlin and in Dortmund. In Berlin, I started with a beer tasting party. Guests enjoyed meals and donated their liquid. I diluted it with water (Asian traditional way as I explained), used it to grow barley at Berlin Botanic garden. Botanic soil scientists were involved. After harvesting, I malted and brewed with friends. At the end of the year, guests came back to celebrate together with our own beer. In Dortmund, It was rather anonymous to participate in the process. A composting company set up toilets at a public place, a beer barley company provided their big field to grow barley for this project. The barley was grown only with this liquid fertiliser, donated by Dortmund citizen. Here, I diluted it with water again. Harvested them, malted, brewed ca.1000 bottles. At the final exhibition at Museum Dortmund U, many visitors bought them. So many experts of soil, barley, malting, craft beer companies took part in the whole process. I was so lucky to make it happen.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Collecting urine in Dortmund city center

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Distribution of the collected nutrients diluted with water on the barley field, Dortmund

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Barley Seeding Day at the Botanical Garden in Berlin, 21 April 2015

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Barley growing in Berlin, July 2015

Harvesting in Berlin, 29 July 2015

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Brewing in Berlin, 09 October 2015

By the way did people enjoy the taste of the beer?

Yes, with several beer experts, we selected carefully the German old barley seed and hops. I needed to study a traditional malting process too.
The taste was amazingly good – both Berlin version and Dortmund version.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Future Beer

Ayumi Matsuzaka, DYCLE – Diaper Cycle

Your artistic practice is quite successful and impressive. So what made you decide to become an entrepreneur and launch DYCLE – Diaper Cycle? Wasn’t it a risky decision?

The reality is that when I combined my 10 years of several art projects, I could make a business model.

Of course, my business mentor and several surrounding people helped me for this transition. I learned entrepreneurship by doing.

If you ask me “wasn’t it a risky decision?”, I must say that staying in the art field is rather risky for us on this planet! (This is my opinion)

Our world needs 1000.000s of imagination every minutes. Our world needs more Doer than Thinkers.
Our world needs more people like artists and creators who can give Love and share with others openly.

The power of artists is to scan carefully any floating invisible aspiration and wishes of our society and visualise them before our society can see it in reality. So I must say to artists that if some of your important ideas do not fit to the art worlds any more, choose other places to give the birth.

In my case, after having several soil projects here and there, I saw more potential outside the art fields and decided to realise it on a wider scale. And good news is that I still get invitations from art exhibitions and show my entrepreneur ideas there.

The Diaper Cycle

Ayumi Matsuzaka, DYCLE – The Diaper Cycle

The idea behind DYCLE looks very simple and yet, i suspect it requires a lot of orchestrating, organisation, skills, knowledge as well as the goodwill of the participating parents. So how did you manage to gather all this know-how? Do you try to supervise every single step of the project or do you rely mostly on collaborations?

Good question. l needed almost 5 years to realise each key activity of the Diaper Cycle one after another.

Since it is not another new diaper but a new system, each step needed to be proved; Making soil substrate safely from diaper, using the soil for tree plantation, taking care of the trees, building parents community and finally making our own diaper design and producing diaper machinery…

I started solo in 2014, experimenting fermentation of used baby diapers and trying to make soil substrate. After failing, I made my first team in 2015.
Since then, 37 people have joined the team and left. So far, more than 100 people contributed their knowledge, resources, time and finance to hands-on experiments and hackathon workshops. They are individual citizen who really love the concept and love to add their aspiration to it.
I am rather a weaver who carry everybody’s dream in an harmonious way 🙂

Ayumi Matsuzaka, Terra Preta made from diaper waste and biochar

Why is this important that the process produces black soil and not any type of soil?

3 reasons. Terra Preta soil substrate is high quality of living soil. It is much more hygienic than normal compost thanks to the proper anaerobic fermentation and humification process (process with compost worms). The degradation process is faster than in normal compost. Normally if you compost human bodily waste, you are recommended to leave it for 3 to 4 years. In Terra Preta method, we can have a one year degradation process. Very speedy. The last reason is for the revenue model. It is important to produce a higher product than normal quality of compost.

These total recycling processes are on the one hand, very down to earth. On the other hand, there’s something also a bit futuristic about them. I imagine that they use techniques that might be used in current or future space travel. Is that something you looked into?

Terra Preta method is nothing innovative. Indigenous people in Amazon area used the method 1000s years ago.
What many people love in this Diaper Cycle system is that we invest (give love) to generations to come – Planting fruit trees with small children.

These young children and babies will have a completely new mindset of sanitation after they experience of the tree-growth in the age of zero. This is probably what makes us so excited.

Ayumi Matsuzaka, DYCLE – The Diaper Cycle

What are the next steps for DYCLE – Diaper Cycle?

Currently we develop a semi-automatised diaper machinery with our technological partner. They produce 100% compostable sanitary pads.

We are so lucky to work with them. Once the machinery is fixed, we will import it to Berlin and start our first parents group. This would be in the begin of the year 2020.

Thanks Ayumi!

from Finance

This Is Not an Atlas. A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies

This Is Not an Atlas. A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies, edited by kollektiv orangotango+. Published by transcript Verlag.

More indigenous territory has been claimed by maps than by guns. This assertion has its corollary: more indigenous territory can be defended and reclaimed by maps than by guns.
Bernard Nietschmann, geographer

In 2015, the group of critical geographers kollektiv orangotango launched a call for critical maps in English, German and Spanish. They received nearly 150 submissions from all over the world and selected about a third of them for This Is Not an Atlas.

The book is a collection of maps but it is not an atlas. Unlike traditional cartography, it doesn’t pretend to be a paragon of objectivity. It recognizes, right from the start, that maps are always political.

The contributions are counter-cartographies. They visualize social injustices, environmental destruction and territorial struggles. However, because counter-cartographies are anchored in a tradition of post-colonial practices of mapping back, they don’t stop at making unbalances of power visible, they go further: they act as springboards for critical thinking, emancipation, coordination and resistance.

Iconoclasistas, ¿A quién pertenece la tierra? / Who Owns the Land?

Mark Graham, Stefano De Sabbata, Ralph Straumann, Sanna Ojanperä (Geonet)

Mapping in the Amazon. Indigenous Kaxinawa from Rui Humaitá producing sketches during mapping workshop

Brett Bloom, Deep Map

Inside This Is Not An Atlas, you’ll discover an online mapping platform that helps migrants organise their journey across the Mediterranean sea and communicate any violations of their rights; a documentation of the rampant human rights violations by the State police in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas; maps that help participants of protests find their way in unfamiliar cities; an anti-eviction project that documents real estate speculation in and beyond the San Francisco Bay Area; a series of maps that help strengthen social movements of traditional peoples and communities living in the Amazon; a crowdsourcing project that provide citizens in an Indian megacity with a much-needed map of public toilets; an HarassMap that anonymously crowdsource incidents of sexual harassment all over Egypt; an interactive street map of the squatting movement in Berlin; a free community-based project that does justice to the vibrant neighbourhood of Kibera in Nairobi, etc. And of course many cases of ecological conflicts across the world documented on the Environmental Justice Atlas platform.

The works selected demonstrate that counter-cartography has a role to play locally and internationally. In the Global South and in the Global North.

The two projects i found most compelling illustrate that you don’t need sophisticated technologies to visualize a territory:

Participants watch from below as the red balloon sails above a spot in the camp. Image Greening Bourj al-Shamali, via

The Bourj Al Shamali camp In Lebanon houses some 22,000 Palestinian refugees. An urban agriculture pilot project revealed that no map of the camp was available to its inhabitants. The only maps that exist are kept secret by international organisations for security reason.

The solution was self-mapping using a digital camera and a helium-filled balloon to make aerial photography of the settlement. The approach was very low tech but it had the advantage of being less threatening than using drones

Counter-Cartographies of Exile. Map by H.S., Nasruddin Farouk Gladeema, Alishum Ahmedin, Marie Moreau, Kanké Tounkara, Issa Ibrahm Ahmid, Ahmedin A., S.A. Photo by Mabeye Deme

From Afghanistan to France sketches a trail of exile of a refugee leaving his country to reach France. It was created by an asylum seeker who drew the map from “below”, from a walking point of view that subverts the conventional maps of migrations and nation states.

Critical Geography Collective, Violencia de Estado en torno a los proyectos megamineros de la Amazonía Sur del Ecuador (State violence around the Mega Mining projects in South Amazonia of Ecuador

Critical Geography Collective, GPS Workshop in the moorlands of Salcedo, April 2013

Cian Dayrit (in collaboration with Henry Caceres), Et Hoc Quod Nos Nescimus [And the world as we know it], 2018

Recht auf Stadt (Right to the City)

All these maps are not only informative, they are also meant to be sources of inspiration. That’s why the second part of the publication provides insights, methodologies and resources to help individuals and communities organise sessions of collective mapping and to engage into territorial creative activism. If that were not generous enough, the website of This Is Not an Atlas also provides readers with all the maps and even the ebook for you to download and share for free. It is published under the Creative Commons license.

Inside the book:

from Finance

Nonument symposium part 2: How artists deal with old monuments that polarize opinions

Second part of an overview of the Nonument Symposium dedicated to hidden, abandoned and forgotten monuments of the 20th century which took place last June at CAMP, Prague’s Centre for Architecture and Metropolitan Planning.

Neja Tomšič and Martin Bricelj Baraga – Nonument Group, From Nowhere to Noplace – Pioneer Railway, 2019. Photo by Peter Giodani. More images

Deimantas Narkevičius, 20 July 2015, 2016. Photo

The term Nonument denotes 20th century architecture, monuments and public spaces that have undergone a shift in symbolic meaning or have lost it, as a consequence of political and social changes.

Artist and writer Neja Tomšič described with great clarity the difference between monument and nonument. During the discussion at the end of the first panel, she explained that the status of a space that has been labelled as a monument is clear, it is regarded as heritage and should remain untouched.

The concept of Nonument, on the other hand, attempts to open up an arena that acknowledges that some spaces or objects encompass conflicts and/or polarised visions. A nonument embodies historical processes and tensions that see people debate whether it should be demolished or preserved. What matters then is not whether this space/objet should be destroyed or protected but how we can retain its ambivalence, how we can acknowledge all the different dimensions and discussions that accompany this nonument.

The videos of the symposium are online. And if you have the time, i’d also recommend you have a look at the videos of the first Nonument Symposium which took place last year in Ljubljana.

In my previous story, i summed up some of the key ideas presented by historians, architects and urban theorists during the Nonument Symposium. This time, i’d like to write a synopsis of some of the artistic ideas and projects i discovered during the event:

Vladimír Turner with Vojtěch Fröhlich, Jan Šimánek and Ondřej mladý, Osvícení / Enlightenment, 2012

Vladimír Turner with Vojtěch Fröhlich, Jan Šimánek and Ondřej mladý, Osvícení / Enlightenment (Making of video), 2012

Vladimír Turner gave a very entertaining talk about the guerrilla action he and his friends organised in 2012. One night, the group of artists/activists climbed onto the structure of a billboard advertising luxury cars and redirected its lamps to illuminate a nearby sculpture. Simple, smart, efficient. The artwork got the attention it deserved. The huge advertising eyesore was plunged into darkness.

The sculpture, located by the Barrandovský Most bridge in Prague, is a cast-concrete work that sculptor Josef Klimeš made in 1989. The company behind the billboard initially wanted to use the sculpture as a pedestal for its advertising structure (!!!?!) but when the sculptor threw them out of his studio and told them they were not allowed to do so, they simply installed the billboard close to the artwork, making it almost impossible to see the sculpture while you drive by, especially during the night since the lights shine only on the advertising space.

This artistic action rectified a wrong and denounced the visual advertising pollution that pervades Prague and other cities. The light kept on illuminating the sculpture for a full week. The apparent lack of response by the owners of the billboard space might be explained by the fact that advertising is sometimes installed without any official permission from the city.

The video that documents the guerrilla intervention is an invitation for other artists and activists to replicate or adapt the action in their own cities.

The Pioneer Railway. Photo: courtesy of the Slovenian Railway Museum

The work brigades are building Ljubljana Pioneer railway in March 1948. Photo: courtesy of the Slovenian Railway Museum

Pioneer Railway, Ljubljana, Slovenia, in operation 1948-1954. Photo: Nonument group

Both architect Danica Sretenović and members of the art collective Nonument Group talked about their attempts to give a presence to a nonument that’s almost invisible nowadays: The Pioneer Railway inaugurated in Ljubljana in 1948.

Part of a series of “pioneer railways” built by the Yugoslavian government, this fully operational smaller-scale railway was made specifically for children. Kids performed all the jobs (except for the train driving) under the supervision of adult railway workers.

The train would run at a very slow pace on the 3,9 km long tracks along Ljubljana. The railway was not part of the wider infrastructure, it ran independently, didn’t stop at any major station and it ended its course in an open field where there was little to do except pick up mushroom when it was the season. The Pioneer Railway was a source of entertainment, an educational tool and a way to get children excited about technology.

Initially, Ljubljana’s Pioneer Railway was very popular (there wasn’t much else for children to do at the time), but the public quickly lost interest and the line closed down in 1954. The rail tracks were removed, the train stations were left to decay or were repurposed. Part of the line is now a bicycle lane. Each time memorial plaques have been installed along the original route to inform passersby about its history, they were destroyed. Over and over again, reflecting the kind of uneasiness spaces and works from Socialist time often trigger in some Eastern European countries.

Neja Tomšič and Martin Bricelj Baraga – Nonument Group, From Nowhere to Noplace – Pioneer Railway, 2019. Photo by Peter Giodani

Neja Tomšič and Martin Bricelj Baraga – Nonument Group, From Nowhere to Noplace – Pioneer Railway, 2019. Photo by Peter Giodani

Nonument Group’s intervention was based on research in the archives of the Pioneer Railway and on interviews with the builders, users and its other workers. Called “From Nowhere to Noplace”, the performance consisted in a participative soundwalk along the cycle lane that follows the old train track.

The light and sound choreography led visitors on a night walk that addressed themes of memory, subjective experience and erasure in relation to infrastructure and ideology.

Nicolas Grospierre, Balneological Hospital Water Tower, Druskininkai, Lithuania, 2004

Nicolas Grospierre, Yellow Housing Estate, Warsaw, Poland, 2005

Nicolas Grospierre, Abandoned solar radiotelescope, Crimean Laser Observatory, Katsiveli, Crimea, Russia, 2012

Nicolas Grospierre‘s A Subjective Atlas of Modern Architecture started its successful life as a Tumblr in 2003 and continued as a series of exhibitions and books.

The artist (who trained as a political scientist) presents the images he took of various Modernist monuments across the world as a sequence dictated by the forms of the buildings, creating thus a flow of architectural shapes. This choice quickly reveals that, although the modernist language is universal, form doesn’t always follow function in this type of architecture.

During his presentation at the symposium, the photographer made an interesting observation. Many of these modernist buildings were schools, churches, bus stops, hospitals, places of gathering, hospitals, public sculptures, etc. What they had in common is that they didn’t generate any profit by themselves and they embodied a faith that tomorrow would be better. Things are different today. First of all, we’ve stopped believing in a bright future. Second, financial investment has become the main criteria when it comes to filling urban space with new constructions.

Nicolas Grospierre, House of Soviets, Kaliningrad, Russia, 2012

The House of Soviets seen above has an amusing story. As Grospierre explained, local people call it the “sunken robot” because it looks like the head of a robot buried in the ground up to the shoulders. The building was never finished and kept its concrete appearance for years until Vladimir Putin visited Kaliningrad. The building was then hastily covered in blue panels to make it look like it was still under construction. Now the building is as abandoned as ever but thanks to its Potemkin façade, it looks even more like a robot than before.

Deimantas Narkevičius, Once in the XX Century (still from the film), 2004

Deimantas Narkevičius’s artistic practice examines the relationship of personal memories to political histories, particularly those of his native Lithuania.

He talked about several of his key works that deal, each in their own way, with the concept of nonument.

For Once in the XX Century, he used pre-existing footage that documented the taking down of a public sculpture of Lenin in Vilnius in 1991. The artist edited this VHS tape to reverse the playback of the material. As a result, the video appears to show large crowds applauding with great enthusiasm the erection of the Lenin sculpture. The original footage (thus before Narkevičius’s intervention) of the removal of Lenin statue showed people welcoming with frenzy the disappearance of a symbol of the old regime. Lithuania was the first Soviet occupied state to announce restitution of independence and people were full of optimism about their future. The very simple intervention on the footage raises questions surrounding shifts in political regimes and public perception of them over time. This was made very clear by another video the artist showed us.

Deimantas Narkevičius, 20 July 2015, 2016. Photo

Deimantas Narkevičius, 20 July 2015, 2016. Photo

The second video work documented the slow removal of 8 old communist statues from the Green Bridge in Vilnius over the course of one day. The event took place in the same city but almost a quarter of a century after the dismantlement of the Lenin statue. 20 July 2015 documents a radically different feeling: total indifference from passerby.

The government saw their removal as a necessity long after the political ideology that they exemplified has been repealed. They had hoped to garner media attention and replicate the success of the 1991 images. Their plan failed rather miserably. Narkevičius interpreted the local government move as an attempt to impose a historical trauma on younger generations who don’t care.

Hans van Houwelingen, What’s Done… Can Be Undone!, 2008 -2010

Hans van Houwelingen, Until It Stops Resembling Itself, 2011

Joannes Benedictus van Heutsz in Atjeh (photo via)

Hans van Houwelingen is an artist whose interventions in public space explore the relations between art, culture and politics. I’m glad the symposium made me discover his work, it’s witty, political and thought-provoking.

I’ll just mention his current project: Van Heutsz, National Monument of Shame. Joannes Benedictus van Heutsz (1851-1924) was a military officer who was appointed governor general of the Dutch East Indies in 1904. After his death and as a thank you for being responsible for the killing of thousands of people in the colonies, he was given a huge monument at the Olympiaplein in Amsterdam. A hundred years later, Van Heutsz’s name was erased from the structure but the celebration of the legacy of the colonialist period remained. According to the artist, what we need are instruments to dishonour the monuments that celebrate colonialism.

van Houwelingen suggests creating something like a pillory, a device formerly used for punishment by public humiliation. He wants to bring Van Heutsz and his killings back into the public memory with a National Monument of Shame that disgraces colonialism. Between this pillory-inspired structure and the existing monument, there would be a space to think about European colonial memory. “Precisely between honouring and dishonouring lies the space for observing history in an unprejudiced manner,” he writes. “The pillory is in essence the equivalent of the statue that has fallen out of favour: if we believe a monument is no longer a suitable embodiment of changing historical views, reframing it as a pillory allows it to endure, and to sustain our critical inquiry.”

And that’s it for my reports about the Nonument Symposium!

Nonument is an ongoing research and artistic project initiated by MoTA – Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana. The two-day art and theory symposium was organised by Yvette Vašourková, an architect and founding member of CCEA MOBA, the Centre for Central European Architecture in Prague in collaboration with Neja Tomšič and Martin Bricelj Baraga from MOTA.

If you want to know more about the project, check the growing database on Nonument website which is part of MAPS, Mapping and Archiving Public Space co-operation project. Six organisations have contributed to this database: the Centre for Central European Architecture: CCEA (Prague), WH Media / Beamy Space (Vienna), Tačka Komunikacije (Belgrade), House of Humor and Satire (it’s in Gabrovo and i want to go now), ARTos Foundation (Nicosia) and MoTA – Museum of Transitory Art (Ljubljana). The project is co-financed by Creative Europe.

Proceed this way if you’ve missed part 1.
Previously: A Subjective Atlas of Modern Architecture, East of Nowhere – Contemporary Art from post-Soviet Central Asia, SOS Brutalism. A Global Survey, Utopia London, Balkanology, New Architecture and Urban Phenomena in South Eastern Europe, etc.

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Nonument, the hidden, abandoned and forgotten monuments of the 20th century (part 1)

Last month, i had the chance to attend the Nonument Symposium dedicated to hidden, abandoned and forgotten monuments of the 20th century at CAMP, Prague’s Centre for Architecture and Metropolitan Planning.

Banner of Peace, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo: HHS/MPAS

Destruction of the Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov in Sofia, Bulgaria

‘Nonuments’ are architectural structures that suffer from neglect, oversight and a lack of recognition. A nonument can be a hotel, a power plant, a high-rise building, a railway, a former anti-aircraft tower, a monumental sculpture in the middle of the city or in the middle of nowhere, etc.

Their status often raise heated debates. For historians and architects they constitute valuable parts of our built heritage. For tourists, they are often concrete clickbait, icons of ruin porn worth a selfie or two. For others, they need to disappear. Either for political reasons or for speculative ambitions. Or simply, as several participants have underlined during the symposium, because we already have so many monuments that require protection status,

Although nonuments can be found all over the world, the Symposium looked closely at several cases of nonuments from Eastern Europe where the structures often present an added layer of controversy. Many citizens and politicians from this area of the old continent see them as symbols of oppression. To them, they are outdated, inconvenient and “too Communists.”

Iriški Venac TV tower (detail), in Iriški Venac near Novi Sad, Serbia, 1975. Photo Fruskac

Iriški Venac TV tower (detail), in Iriški Venac near Novi Sad, Serbia, 1975. Photo Fruskac

The interdisciplinary symposium combined theory, documentation of artistic interventions, historical considerations and discussions with the public to reflect on how we should engage with structures that have intrinsic values but remain contentious.

One of the many issues that emerged during the event is that it is urgent to start a reflection around these structures before they fade into oblivion: their architects are dying and, all around us, public space is shrinking.

Nonument! Symposium at CAMP in Prague. Part 1

The videos of the symposium are online. I’ve embedded part 1 above. You can find part 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the fb page of CAMP. Below are some of the notes i wrote down while i was in Prague. This first chapter of my report is focusing on the historical and the architectural elements. The second chapter, which i’ll publish later this week, will look at the artistic interventions i discovered during the symposium.

Flak tower nicknamed “Peter” was part of Vienna air defence during WWII. Photo: Joshua Koeb

Flak tower in Arenbergpark, Vienna. Photo: Bwag

Let’s kick off with curator and art producer Jürgen Weishäupl’s investigation into the thorny legacy of Vienna’s six flack towers. Built between 1942 and 1945 by the Nazis to protect the historical centre of Vienna from Allied air strikes, the massive blockhouses are an embarrassing reminder of Austria’s darkest moments.

The Nazis had originally thought that after they’d had won the war, they would clad these concrete giants in white marble and convert them into victory monuments to fallen German soldiers. After WWII, the flak towers stood empty for many years. One is located within a military base of the Austrian Army, one has become an aquarium, one is used as a storage facility by MAK, one has been leased by a data company with a plan to turn it into data centres and several projects are considered for the others. To this day no official decision has been taken as to what the city should do with this difficult legacy.

Buzludzha monument. Photo

Inside the auditorium of the Buzludzha Monument, 2019. Image courtesy Nonument group

Inside the auditorium of the Buzludzha Monument while 3D scanning the whole structure, 2019. Image courtesy Nonument group

In her talk titled Buzludzha, aka “Bulgaria’s UFO”, – The Apotheosis of the Socialist Art in Bulgaria, art historian Aneliya Ivanova looked at the spectacular former headquarter of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

The Buzludzha Monument served the combined functions of a memorial, a museum and a ceremonial venue. It was built on the site where, 90 years earlier, Dimitar Blagoev and his followers had met to found the first social democratic party in the Balkans; where, in 1868, Bulgarian rebels fought against the forces of the Ottoman Empire. They lost the battle but it served as an inspiration for the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottomans ten years later.

Work on the monument began in 1974. 9 meters had to be shaved from the hilltop to give the structure its stable, prominent position. It was the biggest project in Bulgaria at the time. Extra taxes were collected and people had to donate and pay for special stamps in order to fund the construction. As a consequence, most people resented the project right from the start.

The Buzludzha Monument remained open for 8 years. After the government’s fall from power in 1989, the site was abandoned and left open to vandalism. Inside the monument, the mosaics have fallen to the ground and most of the artwork has been removed or destroyed.

Since January 2018, guards have been placed at the site to deter tourists from entering the building.

There’s been plans to turn the place into a hotel, a museum, a spa, etc. But that would of course require a lot of money and with each passing day, Buzludzha is becoming more of ruin. That’s why the The Nonument Group, an artist collective whose interventions attempt to bring more awareness to the issues caused by nonsustainable management of architectural heritage, have recently traveled to Bulgaria to do a 3D scan of both the inside and the outside of the monument.

Kiosk K67 as Tobacco and Newspaper Stand. Image Museum of Architecture & Design Ljubljana, via archdaily

Savin Sever, Mladinska Knjiga Printing House in Ljubljana. Photo via architectuul

Miloš Kosec, an architect and the author of Ruins as an Architectural Object, took examples from Slovenian modernist infrastructures to illustrate how and why some nonumental infrastructures have failed the test of time: an elegant printing house in Ljubljana that once closed never really found a way to be reused adequately; an entirely new city built on the Slovene-Italian border in 1948 along a 2 km long boulevard that started nowhere and ended nowhere; etc.

He did mention one structure that is still successful today: the wonderful k67 kiosk, a modular structure designed in 1966 by Saša J. Mächtig. It could be used as single units or combined to create large agglomerations. The kiosk has been used (and is still being used) as newspaper stand, parking-attendant booths, market stall, ticket booths, lottery stands, bee hive, etc. It has now been re-commodified as design icon and a mobile ruin offering endless reinventions, permutations and functions.

Kosec contrasted the kiosk with current forms of small urban infrastructure: CCTV, anti-terrorist bollards, anti-vandalism benches, anti-immigrant fences, etc. At first, it looked as if they would be ephemeral but they have become permanent. They might use the visual language of being flexible and transitory but they are here to stay. The other fairly recent architectural infrastructure he mentioned is the data center. Energy-hungry, often built in the middle of nowhere, with an extremely bland appearance to remain as anonymous as possible, data centres reflect the lack of transparency and accountability of today’s internet and remind us that infrastructure is not neutral.

Bolt958, Aktentát Transgas, 2017. An action to preserve the Transgas building in Prague. Photos

Ladislav Zikmund-Lender, a researcher in art history, gave a passionate speech in defence of the monuments and structures built over the past few decades. He also tried to examine the reasons why we are still unable to protect public and industrial buildings from the 1970s and 1980s Central East Europe.

Zikmund-Lender remarked that while most people lament the destruction or lack of renovation of buildings from the first half of the 20th Century, they tend to be indifferent when yet another building from the second half of the 20th century is dismantled and replaced by ugly shopping malls and other eyesores. For many people in Eastern Europe, these monuments are associated with communism, with an era they want to leave in the past. The demolition trend observed over the past 10 to 15 is not random he believes.

Hotel Praha in Prague

Hotel Praha’s grand staircase. Photo: Courtesy of Sigmar and OKOLO (via)

Hotel Praha’s bowling alley. Photo: Courtesy of Sigmar and OKOLO (via)

Hotel Praha in Prague is one of the examples the art historian gave of this trend. The Brutalist design dates from the early 1970s but the hotel was only finally completed in 1981. Its architecture closely followed the hill upon which it was erected. The spaces and furniture inside were the result of a collaboration between the best craftsmen, designers and decorators in Czechoslovakia. The hotel quickly became the location of choice for visiting communist dignitaries.

The hotel was privatized in the early 2000s. The new owner, perhaps not the most competent businessman in town, maintained that it was impossible to manage the hotel in a sustainable way. His claim was relayed in the press and so the hotel’s fate was settled. In 2014, in spite of the strong opposition from architects and historians, the hotel was demolished under the pretence that it was an unprofitable, unsustainable structure that couldn’t be fixed.

The building of Transgas, Prague. Photo: Ondrej Kohout

Zikmund-Lender also analysed the case of the Transgas building erected in Prague between 1972 and ’78 in the Brutalist style as a control center for the Transgas pipeline. Part of the complex served as the Federal Ministry of Fuel and Energy. At the time, people assumed that the state would take care of the building forever. But that didn’t happen. Politics changed and the public spaces were left to degrade. The Transgas building was being demolished while we were discussing its fate in the Nonument Symposium.

Zikmund-Lender ended his contribution to the symposium with 5 requests:

1. Stop pretending that this is not political! This architecture is socialist in many ways. It was paid by the state and it promotes the idea of modernity without capitalism.

2. Ask questions while you can. The career of the architects of these buildings plummeted after 1989. They were made to feel guilty, sometimes they were even fired from their positions. We have to talk with them, understand the circumstances and context of their work.

3. Forget Brutalism and Le Corbusier. In the East, architects of these decades knew about Le Corbusier and about Brutalism in France and the UK but they interpreted it in their own way.
4. Your building is our city: public interest and not just private interest has to be taken into consideration. We don’t need new buildings, we need to think about the carbon footprint of new constructions.
5. Stop lying about the real reason to take down these buildings. Instead, research, understand and don’t judge. Fight and resist their demolition.

Bratislava Castle, Baroque garden. Photo

Architecture historian Peter Szalay recounted the absurd history of the renovations of the Bratislava Castle. Burnt in the 19th century, the castel was left as a slowly deteriorating ruin until the middle of the 20th century. It was then remodelled in a Neo-Romantic style with a decidedly modern interior. The castle has recently been revamped again. This time in Neo-Baroque style with white stucco and gold that are supposed to bring back a certain idea of the glorious past of the city.

Things got even stranger when it was decided to build a garage under the castle. Remains of Celtic cities were found underground but, instead of renouncing the parking lot, the city decided to quietly push aside some of the Celtic remains into a small space. Then they built the garage and put a Baroque garden on top. The decision demonstrates the irrationality of this type of nationalism, the self-narcissism of a choice one would expect from an absolute monarch.

Similar manipulative rhetoric is sometimes used to justify the destruction of modernist buildings, Szalay concluded. Sometimes the destruction is presented as being part of a “healing process”, sometimes it’s the “un-ecological state” of the building that is used as an excuse.

Mihajlo Mitrović, Western City Gate, 1977. Photo by jaime.silva

Mihajlo Mitrović, Western City Gate, 1977. Photo by Błażej Pindor 2003 (via)

Historian Vladimir Dulović brought our attention to the fate of the Genex Tower, aka Western City Gate, one of the icons of New Belgrade and its brutalist architecture. A symbol still visible, but now almost abandoned.

Western city gate was built in 1980 in the brutalist style by architect Mihajlo Mitrović. It is formed by two towers connected with a two-storey bridge and a revolving restaurant at the top. The taller tower is residential, while the other one was owned by the Genex company.

After the war, socialist Yugoslavia was perceived as negative and embarrassing. The Genex tower was left empty and is now covered by a huge billboard, the concrete shows signs of damage and the communal areas are left in very bad conditions. The owners have tried several times to sell the building but no one was wants to bid. On the other hand, Brutalism is very fashionable again, tourists in Belgrade are eager to see “something very communist” and residents of the tower understand that the place still has a lot of potential. However, the government is not intervening and most people within Serbia don’t appreciate what they see as “Socialist architecture”. What protects the building now are the residents who live there and its huge size (it enjoys the aura of being the tallest building in Belgrade but not for long.)

Western City Gate is a monument to its own era and also to the way we’ve been treating the monuments of these past few decades.

Hybrid Space Lab, Virtual recreation of the Valley of the Fallen

Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar from Hybrid Space Lab, a interdisciplinary platform for architects, urbanists, designers, media artists and engineers, introduced us to Deep Space, a long-term investigative program that explores politics of memory, controversial space and monuments, digitalization and heritage.

One of the cases they are working on at the moment is not located in Eastern Europe but in Spain. Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen) is a vast complex hosting a Francoist regime monument, a basilica and a monumental memorial in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, near Madrid. Franco claimed that the structure symbolized reconciliation after the civil war. Which is a bit cynical when you know that the structure was built partly by the forced labor of Spanish republican political prisoners and that after his rise to power, the Caudillo continued to persecute and kill political opponents.

Valle de los Caídos hosts a mass grave containing the bones of 33,000 combatants of a conflict that Franco contributed to by helping to lead a military coup against democracy. Only two graves are marked: the one of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falangist party, and Franco’s, the only person interred in the Valley who did not die in the Civil War.

Hybrid Space Lab is exploring ways to re-signify, to bring new meaning to the controversial place by adding an Augmented Reality layer that would allow “the other side”, the one of the victims of the regime, to finally contribute to a narrative that has so far glorified a painful moment of the history of Spain. Deep Space also suggests creating a Center for Civil War Research and a Global Center for Peace and Interpretation inside the site’s buildings.

Jan Kempenaers, Spomenik #1 (Podgaric, Croatia), 2006

Jan Kempenaers, Spomenik #9 (Jasenovac), 2007

Art historian Branislav Dimitrijevič closed the symposium with a brilliant keynote titled “Egypt” rather than “October”: Incongruences in Interpreting Yugoslav National-liberation Monuments, Then and Now.

He looked at the debate around Spomenik, the Yugoslav memorials that went viral online after Jan Kempenaers photographed them in 2010. The photos glamourized the monuments and introduced them into the canon of modern sculpture. However, warned Dimitrijevič, the photos show structures isolated from their surrounding which gives them a fascinating aura of mystery, exoticism and otherness. Both the historical and the geographical contexts are excluded from the canonisation of these sculptures. In this type of vision, they are commodified and exposed to commercial exploitation. Countries from ex-Yugoslavia need to reclaim this part of their history and bring it into a more thoughtful, more nuanced light.

Nonument is an ongoing research and artistic project initiated by MoTA – Museum of Transitory Art in Ljubljana. The two-day art and theory symposium was organised by Yvette Vašourková, an architect and founding member of CCEA MOBA, the Centre for Central European Architecture in Prague in collaboration with Neja Tomšič and Martin Bricelj Baraga from MOTA.

If you want to know more about the project, check the growing database on Nonument website which is part of MAPS, Mapping and Archiving Public Space co-operation project. Six organisations have contributed to this database: the Centre for Central European Architecture: CCEA (Prague), WH Media / Beamy Space (Vienna), Tačka Komunikacije (Belgrade), House of Humor and Satire (it’s in Gabrovo and i want to go now), ARTos Foundation (Nicosia) and MoTA – Museum of Transitory Art (Ljubljana). The project is co-financed by Creative Europe.

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How to become a tree for another tree

Trees and other plants give off chemicals, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs.) The emission rate of these gases and molecules enables plants to communicate, contributes to cloud formation and affects air quality as well as the health of forests. VOCs are also responsible for what we associate as the fragrance of a forest. These emissions are very specific for each individual plant so each tree generates its own cloud.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

One Tree ID, by Agnes Meyer-Brandis, transforms the ID of a specific tree into a perfume that can then be applied to the human body.

When wearing that perfume, a person can not only borrow some of the characteristics of the tree he/she is standing next to, but also use parts of its communication system and potentially have a conversation that —although imperceptible for the human communicator— might still take place on the biochemical level plants use for information exchange.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree (measurement of VOC emissions of the needles), 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

Working together with bioscientists Prof. Dr. Birgit Piechulla and Dr. Uta Effmert from Rostock University, the artist chose a Himalayan Cedar for the first experiment and analyzed its molecule clouds and most of their components. Because the roots and its bacteria, the tree stem and needles emit different VOCs, the team measured the cloud of the roots, the cloud of the tree stem and the cloud of the needles separately. Over 100 different compounds were identified. Later on, the artist also invited perfumer Marc vom Ende to smell the tree. The data collected using science and a “professional” human nose were combined to create three perfumes: “Cloud of the Roots,” “Cloud of the Tree Stem,” and “Cloud of the Tree Crown.” Together they compose the unique One Tree ID perfume.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019

Towards the end of the interview, she also got to talk briefly about Office for Tree Migration, a response to a U.S. Forest Service study that found that some tree species are migrating North at a rate not seen before, likely due to global warming.

Hi Agnes! Is the cloud of a tree different from its smell? Or is smell just one part of the cloud?

Each tree and plant emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds.) VOCs are very small and short lived molecules / gases. This is what we can smell when we go into a forest. These VOCs also contribute to aerosol formation thus also to cloud formation in general. But what we smell is just a part of this cloud, the cloud and VOC emission can contain also molecules which we cannot smell, at least not directly. They are also contained in the One Tree ID of course.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

I’m curious about the fact that 3 clouds were collected: one for the roots, one for the stem and one for the tree needles. Does that mean that a tree carries several clouds? How different are they from each other? this is so mysterious…

Yes, this is amazing to me as well. The needles, the tree stem, the roots and their bacteria, they all emit different VOCs and thus make different molecule clouds. We have measured the roots, the stem and the needles separately and could identify more than 100 compounds, some appeared only in the roots, some only in the tree stem or needles. From these data we synthesised the perfumes “Cloud of the Roots”, “Cloud of the Tree Stem” and “Cloud of the Tree Crone” and they smell really very different from each other. To my surprise, the roots smell quite sweet. The “One Tree ID” was fused from these 3 perfumes.

I would love to go even in more detail, so to say into higher resolution. I was wondering “Does each needle, each bacteria, each little branch make its own cloud?” For sure there is a difference between young and older needles, but to measure in that high resolution is also a question of capacities & resources. In sum, a tree is home to many lifeforms and clouds in all its parts.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

Cedar trees smell very nice if i remember correctly. Does the VOC have that same smell?

Yes, exactly what we can smell of cedars are part of its VOC composition, these are small molecules which go into our nose and dock onto its receptors. The single VOC molecule can smell terrible but in combination it creates its specific good smelling cedar odour. I didn´t know how our data – transformed into a perfume would smell. The measured VOC compounds which were the basis for our perfume recipe could also have created some bad smell. I was especially curious about the roots. Luckily, they smell good.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree, 2019 © Agnes Meyer-Brandis, VG-Bild Kunst 2019

And does the perfume you created affect human beings too? A bit like aromatherapy maybe?

We didn´t measure this, .. but I believe it does. A bit like what happens with forest bathing. In Japan, you can even buy tickets for this.

By wearing that perfume, a person can “potentially have a conversation that – although invisible and inaudible by nature – might still take place on the biochemical level plants use for information exchange.” But communication is a two way process! Would wearing the perfume trigger kind of reaction from the tree that might in theory be perceived (even unconsciously) by the human being?

Yes – it might be possible, the communication is something I really would love to explore further, but it is still very hard and expensive and until now not even possible to measure. However, I am in contact with some scientists, searching for a method to do so. It would be wonderful to create an instant translation and communication system.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, How to Become A Tree For Another Tree (measuring chamber). Photo: © 2018 | ITMZ | Universität Rostock

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, How to Become A Tree For Another Tree (Measuring VOC emissions of the roots), Rostock 2018

Can you tell us about the tools you and the scientists used to collect and identify the cloud? there are photos with big glass bubbles! Are they scientific instruments or are they one of your artistic contraptions?

These are the measurement chambers, with the help of these chambers we collect the air / gases and molecule samples which then are analysed by a special gas chromatograph (GCMS) with mass spectrometer.

These chamber measurements are quite common as scientific method, though how a chamber looks like always differs as each chamber is designed by its scientist, so i also designed my tree stem chamber myself, for example.

Could you describe briefly the installation you were showing as part of Experiment Zukunft at Kunsthalle Rostock? Could visitors try out the cloud perfume?

Yes, the installation consisted of an experimental set up with the tree, a Himalayan Cedar, which we were measuring, and its synthesized One Tree ID, as well as the other 3 perfumes “Cloud of the Roots”, “Cloud of the Tree Stem” and “Cloud of the Tree Crone”. The visitors can apply the perfume and then have a talk with the tree, following an experiment routine, with a start and stop, so we could potentially track and measure the dialogue between tree and human.
As the VOC emissions are a dynamic system, there was also a board with One Tree IDs of each exhibition day.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Office for Tree Migration (OTM)

Quick question about another of your projects! You explained in an interview with Interaliamag that you were working on “a possible system by using options of synthetic biology that allows the trees to move faster and simply walk away from the changed climate”. This sounds very exciting! Are you still working on this Office for Tree Migration project? Did scientists slam the door at your face and told you you were crazy?

It is a longterm project manifesting itself in various artistic outputs and formats. For example, we have designed small tree molecules to observe tree migration on molecular level, in cooperation with Alex de Vries from the University in Groningen without any door slamming.

So far, I’ve been researching on this topic and possible investigation, adaption and migration methods on the northern hemisphere, but at the moment I am doing research on that topic in California where drought and warmer climate are a problem. So the Office for Tree Migration is temporarily settled at the Marin Headlands, where I do longterm observations of plants climbing up hills.

Actually scientist didn’t slam the door, I had several interesting discussions, as in any field of work there people who are more and less open-minded people. I am apparently lucky with my science encounters. What I heard is both interesting and very open thinking. However, I also heard that to find a solution and create walking trees, we would need to combine all human knowledge for the next 30 years, something that’s obviously not existing yet. Nevertheless, it is do-able.

Anyhow, i am working on finding out, getting all sorts of necessary preliminary experiments defined which may pave the way towards walking trees but we have to start small and hopefully create a tiny walking tree arboretum in the near future.

The exhibition in Rostock is over, but the project had received an honorary mention at Ars Electronica this year and will be shown there as well (hopefully! It is not easy to exhibit as it is not only site- but even tree specific!)

Thanks Agnes!

Project Credits: In collaboration with Prof. Dr. Birgit Piechulla and Dr. Uta Effmert, Biochemistry, Institute for BioSciences, University Rostock and Marc vom Ende, Senior Perfumer, Symrise. With kind support by the Stiftung Kunstfonds, Symrise AG and Universität Rostock.

The works was part of Experiment Zukunft, a show curated by Susanne Jaschko at Kunsthalle Rostock in Germany.
Also part of the exhibition: Semina Aeternitatis: can you inscribe human nostalgia onto foreign DNA?

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MAAN/MOON: The only exhibition that sparked my enthusiasm about space exploration

Over a week ago, i was in Antwerp. My first stop was FOMU, the Photography Museum and one of the few cultural spaces where i’m sure i’ll always get to discover something curious and eye-opening. My intention was to visit the show dedicated to young Belgian photographers and the one about The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. After that i thought i’d haughtily snob the MAAN/MOON and make my way to another exciting art space in town. Fortunately, i was accompanied by a friend whose enthusiasm for celestial bodies hasn’t been damped by the current media frenzy about the anniversary of the Moon landing.

Edwin Reichert, People stand in front of a television shop and look through the window to witness the start of the Apollo 11 space mission, Berlin, Germany. Photo AP, via

© Vincent Fournier, Atacama Desert, Lunar Robotic Research (Nasa), Chile, 2017

© Vincent Fournier, Space Odyssey spacesuit#1, Sylmar, USA, 2019

MAAN/MOON is an uplifting exhibition about humanity’s fascination for the Moon. It’s so good that even i, the only person on Earth stupid enough to profess a total indifference for space travel, decided it was worth coming back to it with a blog review.

By mixing science, NASA archives, astronaut’s wives drama, contemporary artworks, humour, poetry and politics, curators Maarten Dings and Joachim Naudts present an enchanting perspective on our only permanent natural satellite.

Here’s a quick tour of some of the works and facts i discovered while i was visiting the exhibition:

Gil Scott-Heron, Whitey On The Moon, 1970

In “Whitey on the Moon,” Gil Scott-Heron brings technological achievements into the context of racial inequality in the USA. Instead of joining the chorus that celebrated the space race, the poet denounces the distressing conditions in which urban African-American communities live and questions the economic priorities of his country.

Scott-Heron wasn’t the only American citizens who challenged the extravagance of a trip to the Moon. Testifying to the US Senate on race and urban poverty in 1966, Martin Luther King declared that “in a few years we can be assured that we will set a man on the Moon and with an adequate telescope he will be able to see the slums on Earth with their intensified congestion, decay and turbulence”.

Katie Paterson, Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), 2007

Earth-Moon-Earth or “moon bounce” is a radio communication system that consists in sending messages in Morse code from Earth to the Moon where it is reflected off the surface and then received back on Earth. The Moon sends back most of the information but some of it can also get lost in the process.

Katie Paterson translated Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata into Morse code and sent it to the Moon. Once back on our planet, the composition was re-translated into a new score, the gaps and absences becoming intervals and rests. The “Moon-altered” piece is played on an automated grand piano.

What makes the work so moving is the way it embraces the distortions, loss and imperfections of the technique, subtly reinventing the sonata and giving it a celestial dimension.

Joan Fontcuberta, Sputnik (Official portrait of the astronaut Ivan Istochnikov, 1997), 1998

Joan Fontcuberta, Sputnik (detail of the installation), 1997

In a series that mixes historical documents and fabricated evidence, Joan Fontcuberta chronicles the tragedy of astronaut Ivan Istochnikov (the closest Russian translation of Joan Fontcuberta), lost in space under mysterious circumstances on October 25, 1968.

Fontcuberta reconstructs the life of the cosmonaut, his childhood, military career, family life and the journey together with Kloka the dog on the Soyuz 2 spacecraft. The artist then shows how Soviet officials deleted Istochnikov from official Soviet history to avoid embarrassment.

On 24 April 1967, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed in the Soyuz 1 as it re-entered the atmosphere. He was the first man to die during a space mission. In this photo, taken during his funeral, Soviet officials regard Komarov’s charred remains in an open casket. Photo

Paul Van Hoeydonck, Fallen Astronaut, 1971

I had no idea that Apollo 15 had left the first (official) artwork on the Moon during its mission. Fallen Astronaut is a 8.5 cm high aluminium sculpture commissioned by the Apollo 15 crew to commemorate the 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who had thus far lost their lives in the exploration of space. It was placed on the Moon next to a plaque listing the men known at the time to have died.

© Sjoerd Knibbeler, Friede, 2017

For the Lunacy project, Sjoerd Knibbeler made wooden scale models of various spacecraft and photographed them by moonlight in an open-air studio. The image above recreates Friede, the fictitious rocket from the first science fiction film to be based on actual scientific research (Frau im Mond, a silent movie by Fritz Lang, 1929).

© Jojakim Cortis & Adrian Sonderegger, Making of AS11-40-5878 (by Edwin Aldrin, 1969), 2014

Photographers Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger carefully recreate iconic photographs as miniature 3D models, pulling back the camera to reveal the behind-the-scene construction work. A work that perhaps allude to the Moon landing conspiracy theories.

Harry Gruyaert, Apollo XIV on BBC II, from the series TV Shots, 1971

Harry Gruyaert raised controversy when he exhibited his TV Shots for the first time in 1974. He had photographed sitcoms, dog shows, news bulletins, ad breaks, the Apollo flights and other programs as they appeared on television screens at the time. The result is garish, distorted and was seen as a disrespectful assault on both the culture of television and the conventions of photography.

Giorgio de Finis and Fabrizio Boni, Space Metropoliz, 2013

Giorgio de Finis and Fabrizio Boni, Space Metropoliz (trailer), 2013

A former salami factory on the outskirts of Rome, home to immigrants from around the world, is housing an art gallery called MAAM (Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz, in english Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere of Metropoliz).

A few years ago, Fabrizio Boni and Giorgio de Finis collaborated with the residents of Metropoliz on a documentary that follows them as they are building a rocket to go to the Moon. The residents worked to build sets, act as extras, etc. The film is of course also a poignant comment on the issues these individuals face everyday in Italy: discrimination, xenophobia and the threat of being evicted.

Margaret Hamilton standing next to the Apollo Guidance Computer Source Code, 1969. MIT Archive

American computer scientist Margaret Hamilton and her team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote the source code which allowed astronauts to land safely on the Moon. An enormous achievement given that, back in the 1960s, the colossal computers were powered by just 72KB of computer memory (a smartphone nowadays has a million times more storage space) and relied upon analogue punched cards for input.

John Adams Whipple, Image of the Moon, 1852

Working with astronomer William Cranch Bond in the mid-19th Century, John Adams Whipple made daguerreotypes of the Moon using a telescope from the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Great Refractor telescope was the largest of its kind at the time, and it took three years for the duo to overcome the many technical and meteorological challenges to achieve a usable image. At the time, the picture was praised throughout the world for being the most accurate and sublime image of the Moon.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue (documentation), 2012

Léon Gimpel, Hyperstereoscopie de la lune, 1923 © Léon Gimpel \ Archive of Modern Conflict

Léon Gimpel used two existing photographs to create the stereo photo above. Both photographs were taken from the Observatoire de Paris with a gap of almost three years (9 May 1897 and 7 February 1900). In 1923, Gimpel converted the images into autochromes. He later used the anaglyph method to give the illusion of a three dimensional image. Two images are displayed on top of each other: a red image for the left eye and a cyan image for the right eye. Wearing special glasses turns the composition into a grey floating Moon.

Lee Balterman, Joan Aldrin sobs with joy and relief as she learns of the successful completion of the husband’s mission, July 1969 (via)

A crowd gathers to watch the launch, Merritt Island, Florida. July 16, 1969. Photo: NASA/Flickr via

Joel Meyerowitz, A young couple sitting on their Plymouth Satellite on the eve of the launch of the Apollo 11. It is estimated that around one million people gathered neat Cape Kennedy in Florida to witness the launch

Lunar Orbiter 1 Frame 1117, 1966 © NASA

The Lunar Orbiter programme consisted of five unmanned spaceships sent between 1966 and 1967 to the Moon’s surface and help select Apollo landing sites. The Orbiters were equipped with a system that allowed the images to be developed and scanned on board. While the spacecraft flew over the surface of the Moon, 70-mm long film strips were exposed in a twin-lens camera. The photographs were sent as analogue signals to earth where the strips were assembled into mosaic images.

© Roberto Pufleb & Nadine Schlieper, Alternative Moons, 2017

Fritz Goro, NASA engineer Allyn Hazard testing the prototype of a spacesuit, 1962. The outfit was designed by the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation and was intended for use in the Apollo lunar landing programme. Photo

© Penelope Umbrico, Everyone’s Photos Any License – 654 of 1.146.034 Full Moons on Flickr in November 2015

© Annemie Augustijns, The Moon Poland, 2006

© Pierre Puiseux & Maurice Loewy, Atlas photographique de la lune, 1896 – 1910

MAAN/MOON is curated by Maarten Dings & Joachim Naudts. The exhibition remains open until 6 October 2019 at FOMU, the photography museum in Antwerp, Belgium.

Related stories: KOSMICA: Full moon politics, Should We Colonise the Moon?, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, Interview with ‘We Colonised the Moon’, etc.

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Malware: What if we looked at computer viruses as works of design?

Het Nieuwe Instituut, a museum in Rotterdam dedicated to architecture, design and digital culture, has recently opened an exhibition that challenges visitors to look at the inventive and creative side of cybercrime. What if malware were not just damaging pieces of software but also anonymous works of design?

CryptoLocker. Malware, exhibition view at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photo: Ewout Huibers

Malware, exhibition view at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photo: Astin le Clercq

Curated by designer Bas van de Poel together with architect, researcher and curator Marina Otero Verzier, Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection charts the eventful history of computer viruses. Harmful software started infecting our devices over 30 years ago. They started as experimental pranks and underground activism but they soon became nifty works of social engineering that incorporated the human in the scripting language, exploiting our weaknesses and making us behave as they wished. Nowadays, their playground is politics and warfare. Malware have grown to become painfully sophisticated spying tools and geopolitical weapon developed by governments.

Malware, exhibition view at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photo: Ewout Huibers

Malware – exhibition about the history and evolution of the computer virus. A video by Marit Geluk

As the exhibition demonstrates, the future of malware is bright. But not for us. We might feel that we, as individuals, are less exposed to virus misdeeds than in the early days but we should not underestimate the Damocles Sword hanging over our head. A depressingly high number of serious ransomware, data breaches, state-backed hacking cam­paigns and other cybersecurity incidents have already marked 2019 and reminded us that technology has always grown in close connection with conflicts. And as we increasingly rely on AI algorithms, on the comfort of the so-called “smart” cities and on connected medical devices implanted inside our bodies, malware will come back to haunt us personally, invading our private spaces and potentially manipulating our behaviours and emotions.

Kenzero, 2010. Artistic interpretations by Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

In her presentation during the opening night, Svitlana Matviyenko, a media scholar and the co-author of Cyberwar and Revolution, highlighted the cultural and strategic importance of malware. She made the bold but pertinent suggestion that internet might seem to have become unfriendly, almost impossible to use, to the point that some have claimed that the internet is “broken”. Maybe, she continued, the internet isn’t broken, maybe it has come to its true realization as a malicious environment. It’s finally reached its perfect stage and we’re not the receiver of the message anymore, we’ve become a relay in the war.

Malware, exhibition view at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photo: Ewout Huibers

I learnt a lot while visiting Malware. Through its brief but dense history of malicious software, the exhibition not only inform visitors about the many challenges related to security, warfare and geopolitics in times of rapid technological advance, it also invites designers and other creative minds to reflect on the role they can play to counter theses forms of innovative but malignant digital practices.

Most of the malware cases highlighted in Rotterdam are illustrated by an artistic interpretation designed by Bas Van de Poel and Bureau Tomorrow. They used screenshot of the viruses, news footage, images of the type of facilities infiltrated and other visual clues to help visitors understand the power and creativity behind malicious software. Here’s a small selections of the viruses exhibited:

DOS Virus BRAIN, part of the Malware exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut

Brain: Searching for the first PC virus in Pakistan. Mikko Hypponen traveled to Lahore to find the authors of BRAIN

Also known as “Pakistani flu”, Brain was created in 1986 by Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, two brothers based in Lahore. Considered the first computer virus for Microsoft disk operating system, the code was designed to protect their medical software from piracy. Brain corrupted IBM PCs by replacing the boot sector of a floppy disk. The virus was accompanied by the brothers’ address, phone numbers and a message informing the user that their machine was infected and to call them for inoculation.

The brothers intention was not malicious so they were surprised to receive phone calls from people in the UK, the United States and elsewhere, demanding that they disinfect their machines. Their telecommunications company Brain still exists at the same address. They had to change their phone numbers though.

Artistic interpretation of the Anna Kournikova virus by Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

The Anna Kournikova computer worm hit computers on 11 February 2001, when some people received a short e-mail that tricked them into opening a file allegedly containing a picture of the Russian tennis player. Millions of them spread the virus in a short time. The designer of the malware, 20-year old Jan de Wit, was caught and sentenced to 150 hours of community service. The mayor of De Wit’s hometown, Sneek, offered him a position at the local IT department, mirroring the case of several hackers who, once caught, were offered lower sentences and even a job if they accepted to collaborate with the FBI.

What makes this virus (maybe we would even call it “clickbait” these days) particularly interesting is that the short statement De Wit posted on a website: “I never intended to harm the people who opened the attachment. But in the end it’s their own fault that they got infected.”

In his talk during the opening night, Jussi Parikka, a new media theorist and the author of Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses, echoed that statement when he suggested that a computer user nowadays who doesn’t know how things work becomes part of the problem.

Coffeeshop DOS computer virus, part of the Malware exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut

Coffeeshop would have failed into oblivion were it not for the fact that it demonstrated in the early 1990s that computers could be used to make a political statement. One of the earliest manifestations of hacktivism, this DOS virus spread through floppy disks and inserted the text string “CoffeeShop” into infected files, prompting the message “Legalize cannabis” and an 8-bit marijuana leaf to appear on computer screens.

Stuxnet, artistic interpretation. Image by Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

Stuxnet, artistic interpretation by Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

Stuxnet was a malicious worm that changed global military strategy in the 21st century. Delivered via a USB drive, it was designed to disrupt programming instructions that control assembly lines and industrial plants. Regarded as the first weapon made entirely from code, Stuxnet has been linked to a policy of covert warfare against Iran’s nuclear armament that might have been led by the U.S. and Israel.

Stuxnet paved the way for digital viruses that have a direct impact on the physical world. On nuclear power stations and soon on self-driving cars and every single component of the Internet of Things.

Malware, exhibition view at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photo: Ewout Huibers

Regin (also known as Prax or QWERTY) was a sophisticated malware and hacking toolkit. According to Die Welt, security experts at Microsoft gave it the name “Regin” in 2011, after the smart and crafty character in Norse mythology.

Designed as a weapon for mass surveillance, Regin captured screenshots, stole passwords, recovered deleted files and intercepted traffic without being easily detected. The data collection had been deployed for targeted operations against government organisations, business, infrastructures, financial institutions and individuals. Its impact and complexity raised suspicions that it was used by NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ. The Trojan was reportedly found on the network of telecom provider Belgacom and on a USB flash drive used by a staff member of Chancellor Angela Merkel in December 2014.

Artistic interpretation of Ransomware Pollocrypt. Image: Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

In 2015, PolloCrypt silently encrypted all the data on infected hard drives, then demanded that their owner pay a “ransom” of several hundred dollars in Bitcoin to a group of hackers. In case of refusal to pay, the files remained encrypted and the users had no access to them. This ransomware used the logo from Los Pollos Hermanos, the chicken restaurant from the Breaking Bad tv show. The most stressful aspect of PolloCrypt was that it suggested that the money had to be paid as quickly as possible, because the price increased as time went on.

More images from the show:

NotPetya, artistic interpretation. Image by Tomorrow Bureau and Bas van de Poel

Malware, exhibition view at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Photo: Ewout Huibers

DOS Virus AIDS, part of the Malware exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut

Malware is the first episode of a trilogy that will explore phenomena that are barely visible but have an impact on our personal space (the next one sounds very promising: it will be about ghosts and real estate!)

Malware, curated by Bas van de Poel and Marina Otero Verzier, remains open until 10 November 2019 at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.

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