Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty

A prison in Liverpool, an Ethereal Summit in New York city, a prestigious Russian art auction at Sotheby’s, a market in North Manchester. These places and the communities that spend time there have little in common. What is more, they sit at opposite ends of the spectrum of financial power. That’s exactly what appealed to Helen Knowles.

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (film still)

In each of these venues, the artist and curator documented (and in one case even staged) a series of auctions. She filmed the communities bidding on artworks, basic goods or house plants. Her images focus on the attire and attitudes rather than on the faces of these individuals. She even got some of them to sing, revealing the texture of the communities which represent such disparate socio-economic groups.

Helen Knowles is currently exhibiting the result of this long research at Arebyte Gallery in London.

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty. Installation at Arebyte Gallery in London. Photo by David Oates

At the center of the Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty installation is a machine that asks visitor to drop a ‎£1 coin into a slot. The machine is transparent, allowing the public to witness the mechanisms needed to convert fiat currency into crypto-currency. Meanwhile, the movements of the visitors are picked up by sensors that detect the location and proximity of the audience to the screens in the room, this data changes the way the ambisonic soundscape is experienced in the room.

Each time the installation is activated, micro-payments are sent to the people who play(ed) a role -big or small- in the development and exhibition of the work: inmates at HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, blockchain software developers, art collectors, market sellers, etc. They all automatically receive a share of the ETH via a smart contract on the blockchain.

The artist helped the participant set up their own cryptocurrency wallet, prompting the question “can technology be a unifying force to enable more equality in society or does technology only work effectively for those who are educated to navigate it?

Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty reveals some of the mechanisms of the blockchain as much as it challenges their promises and limits. Furthermore, the work raises questions about art funding, authorship, value systems, decentralised sharing economies, wealth distribution and other issues that are highly pertinent to society.

I talked to the artist right after the opening of the exhibition:

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (film still)

Hi Helen! Was it difficult to get the authorisation to film at the Sotheby’s auction?

I’ve been filming since 2014. At the beginning, I was mostly interested in exploring ideas around finance. I was then traveling between Manchester and London to do my MFA at Goldsmiths. Manchester and London are incredibly different places. London is a finance capital, with a lot of money being poured into it over the years. Whereas Manchester is a provincial British city. That was six years after the crash and there were lots of discussions about finance but in particular about the financial elites. There were also a lot of works that were pointing the camera at the wealthy. I was looking for a place where I could witness wealth so I went to Sotheby’s. I simply asked if I could photograph and they gave me a press pass to photograph at ‘The Important Russian Art Auction’ on the condition that I didn’t photograph anybody’s face. That’s how I started photographing the kind of clothes that the people were wearing which is interesting because clothes are huge signifiers of your status in society.

After that one auction, however, I was not allowed to take photos again. I had just one lucky break when I could enter with a camera but after that it was impossible.

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (film still)

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (film still)

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (film still)

How about the prison? Is it tricky to enter a prison and speak to the inmates?

At the same time as I was going to Sotheby’s, I was also going to the Openshaw market in North Manchester which is at the opposite end of the wealth spectrum. People you meet there are migrant workers, refugees and other people buying goods at auction for 20p, 50p, etc. I started to do a residency with Future Everything it was through that organisation that I got asked to do a residency in a prison part of a programme by FACT which supports artists to go and do works in prisons.

At the beginning, I had no idea what I was going to do. I only knew that it would be interesting because obviously prisoners have no financial power in society and that prisons have their own ecosystems that have a different value system from the rest of us.

I went to the prison with Denis Jones, a musician I was working with at the time. We talked to the prisoners about their value system, what they prized, how they earned money, the sort of things they were able to buy, the black market taking place in prisons, etc. After a good few hours of conversations, we suddenly had this idea of staging an auction.

My previous artwork, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot, consisted in putting an algorithm on trial inside a court. I’m interested in working with people in the framework of their real life role. I got lawyers to defend and prosecute the algorithm for example.

I had shown the prisoners the auction scenes from London and Manchester. They then helped to stage the auction as a performance. When we asked what they would like to bid on, they sat there for a while, thought about the question and then said that what they really want was plants. They wanted to take care of them. On the one hand, you have the super rich bidding on the 1.4 million pound paintings. On the other, the poor bidding on knickknacks and then the prisoners wanting to simply express their humanity and love by being allowed to look after something.

The prison guards, however, told us that it wasn’t feasible, that plants would be a potential security risk but that prisoners could still bid on plants and send them to their families. So that’s what we did. The interesting thing was that they said they didn’t want to bid with money because they were upset about the ways you can earn money inside the prison. Instead, they wanted to bid with their time. Which meant that everybody who walked into the auction was equal, they had not already accumulated money in order to be able to bid, everyone would just have time to bid with.

I also got the prisoners to sing. I’m interested in the different communities and the textures of these communities. Getting them to sing was a way for them to express themselves but also to add another layer with their voices.

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (Detail of machine). Photo: David Oates

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty (Detail of machine). Photo: David Oates

I’m curious about the machine you’re exhibiting at Arebyte. This machine exposes the mechanisms that convert fiat currency into crypto-currency. Alongside the machine, the film and soundscape triggered by sensors are responding to visitors to the installation. How does it work exactly? How are they connected to the blockchain and the redistribution of money?

We were in prison at the end of 2018-early 2019, that’s when the price of cryptocurrencies was going through the roof. Bitcoin was becoming ridiculously more valuable. I had been interested in Bitcoin for quite a long time. I didn’t really understand blockchain but I thought that at this point it would be interesting to go to the Ethereum summit in New York because they had made a call out to artists. The Ethereum Summit was a big conference organised by ConsenSys. I wanted to see if I could get the employees of ConsenSys to sing. It also happened that the Summit had the first ever digital art auction called The Codex Auction. I was able to record the auction and take photographs of people’s clothes. I also managed to convince some of the employees at ConsenSys to sing. We set up a recording studio at their offices. I was working with two musicians, Arone Dyer and Denis Jones. We just asked people if they’d join and sing with us. And they did!

What did they sing?

I showed prisoners videos about Benjamin Bratton’s theories, I talked about ideas about systems, etc. The prisoners drew from that and created a very simple line that was “Systems within systems within systems within systems. Borders within borders within borders within borders.” The Ethereum people didn’t sing specific lyrics, they just harmonised but the result was quite ethereal, almost like a Gregorian chant. Market sellers sang songs about money and I managed to get the ex wife of a Monoco heir to come to a recording studio and talk and sing about the kinds of people who attended the art auctions at Sotheby’s. Mainly by focussing on particular words in Russian.

Then I came up with the idea that you pay money in order to witness the piece. To make the machine, I worked with an artist called Daniel Dressel. I had worked with him previously when he made a transparent computer that I used as a prop in my previous film, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot. I was interested in exposing the infrastructure that supports the digital world. So when I was thinking about this machine, I was thinking of working with Daniel to create it so that all the electronics would be exposed whatever this machine did.

Through Future Everything, I then got to know a Manchester-based blockchain company called BlockRocket. They sell art on the internet using Ethereum smart contracts. At that point I started wondering whether it wouldn’t be interesting to reimburse the people involved in the piece while looking at ideas of value, altruism, labour, whether or not you are paid for your time and how much, etc. Everybody could potentially be paid for the time they had spent working on this piece. The prisoners, the ex-wife of a Monaco millionaire who sang for me, etc.

The way we decided to pay people happened through a workshop at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. They were the ones who put the money up to build the machine but also to hold a public programme through which we could hold these workshops to discuss what the machine looked like and have an open discussion about who should get paid.

I’m looking at this idea of the physical fiat currency which of course is a concept. Just like Bitcoin or Ethereum. They are all concepts and their value is driven by different things like social media, the work of the sovereign state and its trustedness within the world, etc. They are not that dissimilar and yet people have a hard time wrapping their heads around virtual currency.

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty. Installation at Arebyte Gallery in London. Photo by David Oates

Helen Knowles, Trickle Down, A New Vertical Sovereignty. Installation at Arebyte Gallery in London. Photo by David Oates

Could you tell us about the soundscape?

The way you experience the piece is that you walk into the space and you are confronted by the sculpture which asks you to insert the coin. Once you’ve inserted the coin, you can watch it going through the machine. The machine then sends a signal that does two things: start the videos and trigger the smart contracts to make the payments. It thus splits one pound into the equivalent value of Ethereum between -at present- 28 people. That number will probably go up over the course of the piece touring because when we had this conversation about who should get paid, people decided that the future institutions should also get paid. Which is interesting because how you value a work is obviously not simply about its monetary value but also where it is shown, who writes about it, etc.

If you’re paying future venues, there’s a potential ethical dilemma but it mirrors this idea of incentivisation in the blockchain. I’m not sure whether or not this is ethically correct but it is interesting.

Once you’ve witnessed the four videos, you move into the soundscape. The videos are not moving images, they are still photographs with a soundtrack. They then go on repeat and the soundtrack starts. For the soundtrack, I worked with a composer called Pablo Galaz Salamanca. It is ambisonic. There are 8 speakers in the exhibition room and they make up 4 different sources which are connected to Sotheby’s, Openshaw, the prison and the Ethereum auctions. I recorded the different environments. The doors banging, the keys dangling and the sounds of the gym in the prison; the coins in the market as well as the vocal recordings. This is the meat of the composition. Data generated by the sensors positioned to record whether or the not the audience is close or away from a particular screen effects the sound diffusion and spatialisation of the sound within the space and your perception of the composition. It also changes the volume, reverbs and filters to make things sound distant. We aim to keep a record of the data history, like the ledger on the blockchain, which could be accessed in the future to replay a particular moment in time.

Helen Knowles, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot (trailer), 2016

Helen Knowles, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot (One of the seven court drawings by Helen Knowles and Liza Brett), 2016

Helen Knowles, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot (film still), 2016

My last question regards your previous work, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot, a performance during which real lawyers debate on whether or not a fictitious (but uncannily credible) algorithm can be found guilty in case people die following one its “decisions”? The work toured around law schools. What were the reactions of students and lecturers in those schools?

Interestingly, I took it to about 4 or 5 law schools in 2015-2016. At the time, the issue wasn’t discussed as much as it is today. The lecturers told me that the law was just starting to try and catch up. One of the most interesting conversation I had about the piece took place at the Zabludowicz Collection in London. They showed the piece for 6 weeks and then staged a kind of reconstruction of the trial. We brought together a group of 12 experts in the field. And people had very different ideas about the issue. We had a couple of female coders who kept saying that an algorithm nothing more than a recipe. Other people with different expertise, perhaps more philosophical, did not see it like that. It showed how debatable the topic can be.

Thanks Helen!

Trickle Down: A New Vertical Sovereignty is at Arebyte Gallery until Wed 26 Feb, open Tuesday – Saturday 12-6pm.

from Finance

4 Great Ways to Spread Investments Around!

4 Great Ways to Spread Investments Around!

gift ideas

Been tagging some great ideas from the community lately, and can’t keep them to myself anymore 😉

Today I’ll share some of the more financial/investmenty ones, and then tomorrow some of the lifestyley ones that really hit me.

Maybe you’ll find something that improves your life or someone’s you love?


The “Dividends” Souvenir

Whenever we go on a family vacation (family of 4 — me, wife, and two boys 5 and almost 3), I buy a share of stock in something related to the vacation for each of the boys and then set dividends to reinvest.

So far, they each have 1+ shares of Disney (from a trip to Disney World), and 1+ shares of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. We’re going to Disney in late September, so they’ll each get another share of Disney then. It was meant to be a gift in lieu of souvenirs, but who am I kidding — there’s no way to resist cool Mickey Mouse merchandise when you’re at Walt Disney World!

My hope is that by the time they grow up/move out, I can gift them each a nice little portfolio of stocks related to all the travels/family vacations we’ve went on, and urge them to keep the tradition alive by (a) continuing to buy shares as they go on family vacations, and (b) pay for those vacations using the dividends.

– Chadnudj

[He already had me on the “stocks in lieu of souvenirs” idea, but to then one up it and USE those dividends later to pay for future vacations one day???! Brilliant!]


The “Obsession” Fund

Every year for my gkids birthday I make a $100.00 contribution to their educational fund.

I have fun with it by including a document of sorts suggesting a college they might attend. I try to find a school that has a similar name as them, or relates to their current “obsession.”

For example – the 3 year old who adores purses and can’t get enough colored chap stick was given a acceptance letter from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC this year!  I also get them something “fun”, but I know their parents appreciate the edu $ and look forward to seeing what school I come up with.

– Doris L.

[YES!! Edu $$$ is always much more appreciated over toys!!! Thank you for being good role models for all other grandparents out there ;)]


The “Options” Game

This year for Secret Santa I got my dad, and instead of giving him something material I made a game of it.

I gave him 3 envelopes:

gift options
The first one had instructions telling him he had a choice between either Option A or B, and some hints. The instructions said he could only pick one, and he cannot change his mind later. Once he chooses, he can open that envelope and throw the other in the trash immediately.

Option A clue was a ‘cash gift’. It’s value is $100, and it will only ever be $100. (Inside that envelope I printed off a fake gift certificate to the Guitar Center, his favorite store. If he chose this, I would just switch it with a real gift certificate later)

Option B was an ‘equity gift’. It’s current value is $100, but may fluctuate. This gift pays a 3.88% dividend. (Inside the envelope I printed off some old school stock certificates as well as an investor package for the company ARES Management Corp (parent company of Guitar Center)). The stock (ARES) just happened to be $33 per share when I made the envelopes in early December, so I bought x3 right away. I was 90% sure Dad would pick that one and I wanted to lock in the price at ~$100.

Christmas came and he was so surprised! He loved the game and took all morning to think and make a decision, then he ended up choosing Option B.  We joked that now every time someone else buys a guitar at Guitar Center, they put a few cents into his pocket 🙂

Oh, the best part is, in the last 30 days the ARES stock had gone up about $4. So my Dad’s gift is already worth about $112. I didn’t predict the timing but it’s funny how it worked out. 🙂

5 am Joel

PS: I’m gonna do this from now on for birthdays, wedding gifts, etc. It’s like giving lottery tickets as gifts, but the chances of winning are way higher and it’s more fun to check the price.

[Already told him I’m completely stealing this idea too… even for cheaper gifts around $20! You can pick up plenty of stocks in that range! And btw – Joel’s daily emails are one of the only newsletters I’m subscribed to… Super motivational and *short*!]


The 529 “Building Blocks” Idea

I discovered this idea when I set up a 529 for my niece and nephew. I think there is a business opportunity here.

First donation to their 529, and the kid gets some starter blocks or a small doll’s house along with it or something like that. Then with each additional contribution you send them more blocks/houses so the collection grows as the assets grow!

It’s something the relatives can see and imagine the child playing with and enjoying.

– Jane

[That works too!! A lesson on compounding along with an investment in their future! This fellow parent – and uncle – approves :)]


Hope you liked some of these!

Any other ideas out there that really work for you guys? Whether in gift giving or investing in general?

Here’s the post that elicited a couple of these ideas above: Saving up for something? Buy the stock first!


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from Finance

When I tried to be an adult and it backfired…

When I tried to be an adult and it backfired…

hair in face

Was talking to my sister about how I still rock my cracked phone and broken laptop every day, and she hit me back with some of the stuff she hasn’t gotten around to replacing either.


  • underwear (most of hers has holes!)
  • pillowcases (they’re all fraying)
  • broken mugs… (she re-uses them for paintbrush holders, which is actually pretty clever!)

I find that in most cases I’m perfectly fine riding stuff out until the day they die (I wear holy underwear too! And rarely replace my cars until they putter out…), but the other month I thought maybe it’s better to start acting more like an “adult” and create a back up plan in case either of those important items up there crash and burn and completely collapse my life.

(Or at least this blog, since without a phone or laptop you’d be reading a blank page right now! :))

So I reached out to an old friend in the phone biz who hooked me up with an Android phone she didn’t need anymore (thanks Cherie!), and then shortly after I went out and picked up a brand new Macbook Air I’ve always been curious about and thought would make for a great upgrade when needed…

But then here’s where the crazy thing happened…

Instead of feeling more at peace with having a game plan now, I actually started feeling *worse* about it all!

First, because both items are still sitting in their boxes collecting dust and not helping a single soul (the worst as a practicing minimalist!), and secondly, by the time I actually need to use either of these it’s very possible they’ll long be outdated! Or at least not up to modern technology’s standards. Not that that’s the worst thing in the world as *any* phone or computer is better than having nothing at all when you need one, but I wonder if I jumped the gun too fast here and should have waited a little longer…

(It also feels bad keeping money stashed in a place never being used (laptop), but then again maybe that’s what it feels like to others who put it in savings/retirement to be used for a “rainy day” later? 😉 This is just a different kind of unpleasant planning?)

Fortunately I have no concerns with saving money for later, but it does seem like I’m not so great at keeping backup *stuff* for when those fateful days come….

And now watch – tomorrow BOTH my phone and my computer will die on the spot, which in a weird way I’m kinda hoping for?!! Haha…. Does that make me a whack-job??

At any rate, thought it was interesting how jacked up our brains can be at times, and wondered if any of y’all have ever experienced such malfunctioned planning too…

At least now you’ll know if there’s ever a blank page here it won’t be due to a lack of publishing tools. It’ll mean I’m either dead or kidnapped – that’s all! 😉

Here’s a pic of my cracked phone btw… I can still see 70% of the screen!

cracked phone

Tips/thoughts/advice? This ever happen to you?

That pic up top is totally random, but somehow it’s *exactly* how I feel about all this, haha… Thanks Ryan McGuire!


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The Manifesto of Rural Futurism

Rural areas are in crisis in many parts of the world. In Europe for example, an increasing number of villages and small towns are slowly dying. The demographic decline is due in part of an ageing population and in part to the departure of young people looking for job opportunities in big cities.

We like to think that we care about the countryside. We have an idyllic vision of rural areas as blissful and honest places, as the last (albeit often imaginary) refuges of venerable values. Yet, if we don’t engage in more meaningful ways with rural communities, they might become little more than national parks, totally disconnected from the economy, the politics and the culture of the rest of a country.

Philip Samartzis at Pollinaria / A Futurist’s Cookbook, Campo Imperatore, Abruzzo, Italy, June 2017. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

A curator, writer, researcher and man of many talents*, Leandro Pisano has a much more informed and ultimately more optimistic view than I do on the current state of rural communities and on their future. Together with independent researcher Beatrice Ferrara, Pisano has been looking for more empowering and more dynamic futures for rural areas. The duo has been investigating ways to use culture -and in particular sound art and technocultures- to better understand the complexity of rural areas and to challenge discourses of capitalism that tend to marginalise these rural territories.

Drawing on extensive research in rural areas and on their experience of organising cultural events and conversations in small towns across Southern Italy and beyond, Ferrara and Pisano have written a Manifesto of Rural Futurism (PDF.)

The Manifesto of Rural Futurism,” they write, “is a transnational project interrogating current discourses on rurality as authentic, utopic, anachronistic, provincial, traditional and stable, and the binaries that support such discourses: belonging vs. alienation, development vs. backwardness.”

The title of the project refers less to Marinetti‘s Manifesto of Futurism than to postcolonial futurisms such as Afrofuturism which envisions a future in which arts, science and technology encounter ancient African traditions and black identity to create new narratives of resistance.

Yasuhiro Morinaga at Irpinia Field Works – Conza della Campania, Irpinia, South Italy, May 2011. Photo Leandro Pisano

Sarah Waring at Liminaria 2018. Photo: Speranza De Nicola

I’ve been admiring Pisano’s work for a number of years. I even had the chance to attend one of the digital and sound art festivals he organised back in 2012 in Tufo, a tiny town in the province of Avellino, Campania, southern Italy. I recently caught up with him to chat about The Manifesto’s critical approach to rurality.

Hi Leandro! You’ve presented the Manifesto in several countries. Italy of course but also South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. Does the Manifesto resonate differently in each country and culture? Or do you find that despite a series of superficial differences, all rural communities are suffering from the same problems and asking themselves the same questions?

On one hand, it’s clear that in the Anthropocene, in the era of conflicting coexistences, it doesn’t make much sense to raise the question of the distinction between urban and rural dimension in a topographical, geographical or territorial sense. Rather, the idea of ​​rurality is articulated around the concept of limit, of border, feeding on a series of tensions between different elements: authenticity and utopia, anachronism and provincialism, tradition and sense of stability, belonging and estrangement. In this sense, rurality itself emerges as a political position, in a perspective that relocates it to the flow of modernity as a removed, subaltern or even rejected element, avoiding a nostalgic or “museified” representation.

On the other hand, on a local level, the rural has to come to terms with specific and complex dynamics between local territory and urban space, such as the issues of ‘generation’ and ‘time’ within local communities (depopulation, movement and cultural heritage), the peculiar geophysical characteristics of the place (remoteness, wind, energy, infrastructure and/or lack thereof), the relation between local context and global changes generated by the multidimensional challenges associated with the Anthropocene (climate, lithosphere, biosphere and the planet’s chemistry). During the years, we experimented with this diversity and multiplicity in different parts of the world, where a series of specific issues emerged in the rural areas we have crossed, such as the sudden hyper-urbanization of the former countryside areas in the suburb area of Seoul, the extreme remoteness in Australia, the extensive landlordism in Brazil and the legacy of colonisation in New Zealand.

Jo Burzynska doing field recordings in Torrecuso, Risonanze di Vino 2018. Photo: Leandro Pisano

Ilaria Gadenz at Liminaria 2016 – Rural Futurism, Montefalcone di Valfortore, Fortore, South Italy, july 2016. Photo Leandro Pisano

The Manifesto is a result of a several years’ long research and conversation you had with artists and theorists, but also with rural communities. How did you engage them into the reflection?

Since the first years of our work, our curatorial strategy has often included very long phases of dialogue and preliminary preparation with the artists, oriented towards sharing the approach and methods of the projects. Our idea has always been to create the conditions for realizing an experience geared towards mutual knowledge and fair exchange with local communities. In this way, it has been possible to define a constant process of creative approaches with respect to the territories in which we operated. At the same time, the attention of the artists to the complexity and plurality of ideas generated by the processes of listening, in a critical sense, have produced specific areas of investigation, intersection, and interaction in reference to the themes that involve local communities: the concept of ‘identity’, the approach to abandoned places, to ‘nature’ and the impact of technologies on landscapes.

What emerged strongly – during the process of analysis and curatorial reflection on the different researches and works carried out by the artists year after year – was that the territory itself increasingly claimed its active presence in the research process, freeing itself from the passive position of ‘landscape to describe’. In terms of sound research, what has happened is that, progressively, the projects created by the artists have increasingly been characterized both by the emphasis placed on the composition beyond the documentation and by an approach of immersiveness with respect to the community dynamics inside which their work was founded.

In this context, a series of processes have been put in place that have opened spaces of interaction between communities and artists based on shared interests, even temporarily, or simply built on the encounter that occurs by chance, determined by living in the same way and place and the same time. It is clear that in the context of this encounter, which produces something unexpected, the most intense experiences were those in which the conditions were created – often in unpredictable ways – for experimenting in a shared and horizontal way, in the relationship between the artist and the local community, the recombination of elements, practices, and possibilities already in circulation in the territory, where the intervention of the artists does not represent a force that comes from outside, but represents an action in a cultural space in which it becomes possible to imagine and practice a different political economy.

A Soundwalk — Liminaria 2018

I’m also curious about the type of feedback you received from people of different generations? Do young people living in rural areas have radically different perceptions and hopes about rurality?

What we have often found during our work in different rural areas of South Italy is the desire to recover – above all from the younger generations – awareness of the resources that the rural territories possess, even if they often appear invisible. In fact, these resources are at hand on the territories and must be activated and recovered. It is an idea that is increasingly taking hold in some of these territories and is expressed by the work of those who were born in the rural areas, then trained and studied in metropolitan contexts, and subsequently decided to return to the territories of origin to apply their skills locally.

All of this contributes to reversing the process whereby those who return to their territory of origin, after an experience in the city, feel the weight of a failure. On the contrary, this return can become a real value for young people in rural areas of Italy and not the obvious mark of those who have not been successful. It contributes to the activation of a virtuous path by young people who move away from rural areas: they acquire knowledge in the metropolitan area and return to reinvest and enrich their territory on different levels, fueling the process that the anthropologist Vito Teti defines as ‘restanza’, the return to and / or choice to remain in the area. We have collected various stories which tell of escape and subsequent ‘resettlement’ and that are often the fruit as well as the deployment of a continuous and mutual hybridisation of knowledge between the urban and the rural. If there is a perceived and real risk of the rural regions losing various aspects of their intangible heritage, important stories of ‘restanza’, which clearly express the resilience underpinning the depopulation process, are immediately worth highlighting.

Emanuele Errante at In Limina Orbis – Solfatara di Pozzuoli, Phlegraean Fields, South Italy, April 2012. Photo: Leandro Pisano

A member of the audience listening to the Gunhild Mathea Olaussen + Helene Førde sound installation at Liminaria 2017 – Coexistences, Montefalcone di Valfortore, Fortore, South Italy, July 2016. Photo: Gunhild Mathea Olaussen

On the other hand, I suspect that engaging people who have always lived in urban areas might require a different approach. Why should they care about rurality after all? It often look so distant, both geographically and culturally?

I think that the profound climate changes and transformations in the relationship between humans and non-humans that we are witnessing directly in the contemporary era raise a series of urgent questions also for those who are geographically and culturally distant from rural territories. These areas represent a fundamental safeguard with respect to the processes of food and energy production, environmental recycling, and sustainability; also with regard to the landscape. This issue has deeply influenced our curatorial strategy that has been built over the years, adopting and exercising a self-reflexive perspective with an ‘ecological’ or ‘ecosophic’ focus in relation to place, movement and difference.

In the specific case of our residences in rural spaces, the possibilities for relocating art beyond the white cube have encouraged artists to experience different geographies and spaces. This bi-directional movement, back and forth from an urban to a ‘remote’ or peripheral environment, has produced an artistic practice enhanced by the dialectic of movement and difference. The idea was to challenge artists to question their social ‘self-representation’ in the urban context and reconnect with an environment far beyond that which feeds their daily practice, allowing them to finally renegotiate the terms of artistic production and knowledge through the possibility of new relationships and multicultural debate.

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne in Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

Manifesto of Rural Futurism. Italian Institute of Culture Melbourne, 26 July – 11 October 2019

The Manifesto was accompanied by an exhibition in Melbourne. Could you take us through a couple of the artworks exhibited there? And tell us how they relate to the theme of the future of rurality?

The exhibition held in Melbourne comprises sound and visual recordings undertaken by almost twenty artists involved in fieldwork in Southern Italy during three different residency programmes: Interferenze new arts festival, Liminaria and Pollinaria. The idea on which it was based is that artistic practices – by interrogating our relationship to memory and the archives of the past – reinserts the concept of the ‘rural’ into the framework of contemporary narratives, deconstructing those discourses that relegate it to the status of a mere residue of wider political, economic, and cultural processes, spanning a global scale. In this way, rural areas become places of experimentation, performativity, critical investigation and change, where it is possible to create future scenarios, starting from the assemblage of the seen and the unseen, of human and non-human elements – objects, materials, speech, relational infrastructures, and technologies that give form to (and are formed as) specific modes of governance.

Among the works exhibited, I would mention as two examples: Philip Samartzis’ “Perpetual Motion” and Jo Burzynska’s “Vallisassoli – New and Ancient Resonances”.

Philip Samartzis and Leandro Pisano at Liminaria 2017 – Coexistences, San Marco dei Cavoti, Fortore, South Italy, june 2017. Photo: Luciana Berti

Philip Samartzis at Liminaria 2017 – Coexistences, San Marco dei Cavoti, Fortore, South Italy, June 2017. Photo: Leandro Pisano

The first sonic piece refers to the field recordings taken by Philip Samartzis during the 2017 edition of Liminaria, in the area of ​​Mount San Marco (1007 m asl), located on the Campanian Apennines in an equidistant position between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic Sea. To a deep listening, the seemingly silent landscape of the track reveals a stratification that highlights the traces of a series of recent conflicts among its folds. The repetitive, hypnotic sound of the wind turbines scattered like wildfire on the territory of the Fortore area, whose rotating blades cut the air like rhythmic blows of immense swords, allows a series of political, cultural and economic tensions to emerge. They materialize through the possibilities of listening, to know and live in the world, to relate to the politics of language and with disparate environments, territories and geographies. In its ineffability and in its materiality, these sounds invite us to approach environments, spaces and landscapes, revealing the territorial conflicts and transformations that affect the ideological, infrastructural and biological ecosystems of which we are part.

The second piece, “Vallisassoli – New and Ancient Resonances”, is an audio track presented by sound artist and wine writer Jo Burzynska which analyzes the interactions between sound, wine, culture, and the senses across different areas of oenological production (namely, Monte Taburno and Valle Caudina) in inland Campania. The results of this exploration later guided the actual process of recording, which took place in vineyards and wine cellars. This site-specific soundscape was recorded from a 300-year-old vineyard in the village of San Martino Valle Caudina, where I live. As the author has written, “Perceptually [the sonic piece] has a bright tone, purity and richness to the sound that correspond with the flavours of the wine. In between the bells, crickets and insects sing in the living, organic Vallisassoli vineyards, which work with the freshness of the wine, as does the high pitch of the fermenting wine that’s also part of this work. The bells both symbolise the old winegrowing tradition and herald the new.”

Through the listening experience, both works reveal the rural environment as a space of resonance and dissonance, a complex assemblage of visible and invisible forces, of memories and technologies, of ecologies and tensions, introducing the stimulus of critically rethinking about material processes of economy, landscape and territorial policies.

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

Manifesto of Rural Futurism, Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Italian Cultural Institute Melbourne, July 2019. Photo: Daniela D’Arielli

I’m also very curious about your choice of artworks that use technology in order to explore and communicate rurality. Why bring technology to one of the last few places where the experience doesn’t seem to be entirely mediated by technology?

Sincerely, I think that the idea that rural places are among the ones where the experience doesn’t seem to be entirely mediated by technology is in a certain way behind us. Among the many consequences that the phenomena of globalization have had is that even rural areas are projections of urban reality since they, not only in Italy and Europe, but also in the global South, are aligned with a series of languages that we are accustomed to considering proper to urban cultures, such as digital, but going further back we say the same about ‘old’ technologies or media such as TV, telephones and so on.

Specifically, our approach is inspired by the idea of intersecting rural culture with technology with the aim of turning marginal and rural territories, which are considered invisible or destined to disappear in the discourses of modernism and contemporary capitalism, into spaces and places of action and imagination of possible futures.

In this sense, the Manifesto of Rural Futurism, rather than referring to Italian Futurism, with which it, however, shares an irreverent and also ironic approach, is directly connected – in a conceptual and practical sense – to the ‘minor’ futurisms of the postcolonial sphere, such as Afro-futurism, in which technologies become tools of awareness and resistance to affirm a series of counter-narratives in relation to positions of inequality and difference.

Landscape, Palermo. Liminaria 2018 / Manifesta 12 – Transitions, Palermo, South Italy, November 2018. Photo: Giuliano Mozzillo

Liminaria 2016. Photo: Andrea Cocca

The Manifesto relies on the extensive experience you had with the Liminaria festival (and Interferenze before that) in which you bring artists to remote areas in Southern Italy to engage with landscapes and cultures. How do the artists and local communities relate to each other?

Artists who’ve participated since 2014 in Liminaria’s micro residency programme have creatively approached local territory, analysing and re-narrating the region’s characters — the complex dynamics between rural and urban space, building community over time, its geophysical characteristics — via an experience oriented towards combined knowledge and mutual exchange with local communities, who are invited to speak directly with artists. Rather than interpreting issues and circumstances of local and global significance in overtly ‘simple’ terms, it soon became clear in local territory that standard means of reading rurality, based on oppositions between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’, ‘city worker’ and ‘farmer’, hardly withstand scrutiny.

Focussing on a local area defined by its own confines – the Fortore rural area, on the border of three regions in South Italy: Campania, Molise and Puglia – over several consecutive years has allowed Liminaria’s working group an undeniable privilege. The time to pose and receive questions — which, at times, may be awkward — about the meaning and sustainability of working protocols for projects involving artistic interventions such as Liminaria touch on sensitive issues. Approaching notions of ‘community’ and its (self)representation runs the risk of objectification from the outset; in addition, care also needs to be taken to avoid raising expectations within the social fabric where the project operates by recognising the collaborative and autonomous nature of relationships that might otherwise risk doing more harm than good.

Due to Liminaria’s time constraints, the project has developed in intensity rather than extent with the number of public presentations incrementally — and perhaps paradoxically — being reduced during each week-long event organised two or three times a year. Time and human energy in combination reflect important issues regarding the sustainability of what can be produced, particularly in terms of independent research: for the curators it therefore seemed worthwhile to invest more in the micro residences as, in terms of interventions, they encompass the most important and involved interaction between the project itself and its premise, team, region, artists and all of those who are locally involved in the process.

Any upcoming work, event or field of research you could share with us?

After the first five-year cycle of Liminaria, around which we had built the entire project, originally focused specifically on the Fortore area, we are now in a phase of rethinking the possibility of continuing it and any methods of transformation of the project itself. We are reflecting on a series of actions to be planned for 2020 in different territories and on an overall reconfiguration that could be a prelude to a new phase in our research. After the Manifesto of Rural Futurism exhibition that I curated together with Philip Samartzis and which recently closed at the Italian Cultural Institute in Melbourne, we would like to re-propose the works presented in Australia also in other contexts, including in the Mediterranean area. At the same time, we will continue to work on the connections that we have developed in recent years in Latin America, through an exhibition to take place in Italy and that will be the result of cooperation with the Encuentro Lumen festival and Ultima Esperanza artist group in Chilean Patagonia and a book on Southern American sound art on which I am working.

Thanks Leandro!

*Leandro Pisano is a curator, writer and independent researcher who is particularly interested in the political ecology of rural, marginal and remote territories. He has curated several sonic arts exhibitions across the world and is the founder and director of Interferenze new arts festival and is frequently involved in projects on electronic and sound art, including Mediaterrae Vol.1, Barsento Mediascape and Liminaria.

He is author of the book Nuove geografie del suono. Spazi e territori nell’epoca postdigitale (“New geographies of sound. Spaces and territories in post-digital time”.)

Pisano holds a PhD in Cultural and Post-Colonial Studies from University of Naples “L’Orientale”, where he is a member of Center for Postcolonial and Gender Studies. He is an Honorary Scientific Fellow in Anglo-American Literature at University of Urbino “Carlo Bo”. And if all the above were not enough, he is also teaching Ancient Greek, Latin and Italian Literature in Italian secondary schools.

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Would you rather have your student loan debt wiped away or FREE healthcare forever??

Would you rather have your student loan debt wiped away or FREE healthcare forever??

angel of good

Happppy Monday everyone!!

You’re in luck as I heard a Financial Fairy was going around granting people wishes today – free of charge! – but you could only pick one of two options…

Would you rather….

Have ALL your student loans completely wiped away?! (If you don’t have student loans, you can choose your mortgages/cars/credit card/etc)

– OR –

Get free healthcare from now until the end of your days?

I think I’d take the No Debt option and wipe out my $265,000’ish mortgage as that would free up $2,300/mo on the spot AND we could start enjoying the effects right away!, but wiping out a major concern like that in FIRE would be a helluva blessing too… Both in terms of the insurance itself, but also our own health – as we saw with my poor friend Agatha last week and what she’s now suffering through out of nowhere!! (NOT covered by health insurance, btw…)

And speaking which – you guys have now donated over $2,000 (!) since Friday – THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! Cannot wait for her to check her fundraiser page and see the out pour of love coming in from the community… She’s gonna be so thankful – and it’s all because of YOU!! 🙂

But back to this magical question – which of them would you pick? Freedom from DEBT or freedom from insurance costs/worries forever?!

Drop your answers below so we can all fantasize with you!

I’m not sure exactly *when* this fairy will be visiting us, but I do know it never hurts to put stuff out there in the world just in case 😉

Just don’t stop making moves while you’re waiting!

As Bruce Lee once put it,

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

And Bruce Lee knows everything. So keep going!

bruce lee gif

PS: Shout out to LendEdu for inspiring this who recently put out a report that found that 40% of Americans would rather have the U.S. completely forgive all $1.61 trillion in student loan debt instead of implementing free universal health care, which was selected by 60% of respondents. Would your answer change here if it meant wiping out *everyone’s* student loans vs just your own?! (And conversely, giving EVERYONE universal healthcare for free as well as yourself?)

More fun Would You Rathers from over the years:


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Ingrid Torvund. Nature and macabre creatures

While in Frankfurt to visit Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet, i visited the House of Norway exhibition at the Museum Angewandte Kunst. That’s where i discovered and fell in love with Ingrid Torvund‘s work.

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, I found you under earth under blood, 2019

Torvund’s eerie short films draw on the traditions, nature and folklore of the region of Vest Telemark, an area of Norway that is famed for its rich cultural heritage and, as she explained, by the co-existence of pagan and Christian symbols. Add to the mix a bit of the science fiction and a lot of talent and you might understand why i find her work so captivating.

The Museum Angewandte Kunst was screening her Earth Trilogy (Magic Blood Machine, When I Go Out I Bleed Magic and I Found You Under Earth Under Blood) alongside a selection of drawings, sculptures and props.

I’ll let images speak for themselves but if you fancy a bit of background, head over to Furtherfield where Edward Picot did an interview with Ingrid Torvund.

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, Magic Blood Machine, 2012

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, Magic Blood Machine, 2012

Ingrid Torvund, When I go out I bleed magic, 2015

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, When I go out I bleed magic, 2015

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, When I go out I bleed magic, 2015

Ingrid Torvund, When I go out I bleed magic, 2015

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, I Found you under earth under blood, 2019

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, I Found you under earth under blood, 2019

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, I found you under earth under blood, 2019

Ingrid Torvund in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, I found you under earth under blood, 2019

Ingrid Torvund, in collaboration with Jonas Mailand, Excerpts from the films “When I go out I bleed magic” and “Magic blood machine”

Ingrid Torvund, Artworks from the Under The Earth Trilogy, 2009-2019. Exhibition view at the Museum Angewandte Kunst

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My friend Agatha needs our help 🙏🙏

My friend Agatha needs our help 🙏🙏

agatha k

Hey guys!

I rarely ask for anything on this site, but I’m compelled to do it today as I just found out a friend of mine has been suffering in silence and I feel like I have to use this platform to help. Even though she’d probably kill me right now knowing I’m about to share this with the world!

I don’t know how many of you remember Agatha K from FinCon and blogging circles, but I was just thinking about her the other day and decided to check out her site when I noticed everything had been deleted off it… I then moved to her social media channels and saw those had been erased too!

A bit freaked out I Googled her and sadly came across her current state of affairs – which is not good. Per this Go Fund Me page I learned she’s suffering pretty horribly from something called “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome” (CRPS), otherwise known as “The Suicide Disease” because apparently people find it too hard to live with (!!!).

Never heard of this in my life, but it sounds terrifying:

This condition gives me severe, burning full body nerve pain that comes on in response to an injury, but it doesn’t go away on its own…

The burning pain started in my arms after the injury and then spread to my legs and feet. I’ve tried countless medical treatments and undergone many tests. Unfortunately, the majority of them made my condition worse. Nothing has provided any lasting pain relief.

Worst of all, I received a steroid injection in my neck that landed me in the ER. What was supposed to help me actually spread the burning pain to my whole body. I felt like my entire body was on fire and even two bags of morphine at the ER did not take all of the pain away. After three trips to the ER in only two months and countless doctor visits, I had no answers for why I was in living hell.

It left me unable to walk or even sit. I became bed bound because even the slightest movement would flare my pain to a level 10 out of 10. From my bed, all I dreamed about was getting my life back. But I asked myself if my life in this condition was even worth living?

The saddest part is that she is one of the NICEST and HAPPIEST people on the planet! And I’ve never seen her down or upset about basically anything, so to see her in such pain like this is just devastating…

Doctors don’t even know exactly why this happens to people?!

Fortunately it looks like she’s finally found a place who knows how to treat it better and is slowly on her way to somewhat of a recovery (hopefully!), but in the wake of it all she’s racked up some medical bills along with her sister taking a leave of absence to help care for her full-time… (another beautiful person!)

This clip here on her progress made me smile and cry at the same time… But – baby steps!!

(Finally able to WEAR SHOES!! After months of not being able to!! SHOES!)

So incredibly freaky…

But can you see those rays of hope in her eyes?? A glimpse of what she’s normally like in life!! 🙂

At any rate I won’t try to depress you anymore here, but if you feel compelled to help her – whether in donating a few dollars or spreading the word of CRPS so others are more aware of it – I’d GREATLY appreciate it and here’s how you can do so:

And then if you prefer to give a TAX DEDUCTIBLE donation instead, you can do that by donating through the Burning Limb Foundation where all funds go towards her care. Use this link here, choose “Specific Recipient” and then “Honor” at the bottom, and then type in her name: “Agatha Kulesza”

No worries at all if you don’t want to give or anything, but if you can THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I can’t even imagine what this would to to my life or any of my family members’, and I swear you’d be friends with Agatha if you ever met her in real life 🙂 She used to carry around this ceramic wolf at FinCon dubbed “The Money Wolf” and it always cracked us all up just ‘cuz it was so freakin’ ridiculous…

But these are the people that bring color to our world!! So thank you for reading and getting to know her a little!!

And if you’re a religious person, I’m sure any extra prayers you can send over would help uplift her spirits too 🙂

Thank you, everyone.

Back to our regular financial prattling on Monday 👍

money wolf fincon 2012

[Paula Pant, Stephanie Halligan, Eric Rosenberg, Agatha K, The Money Wolf, J. Money + others,
FinCon, 2012]

PS: A fun talk she did once on socializing with people outside of the blogger world: Agatha Kulesza – Get a Freaking Life via Ignite (in which you have 5 minutes to tell a story using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds)


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How is YOUR pleasure index going? (Hubba hubba)

How is YOUR pleasure index going? (Hubba hubba)

PFSi satisfaction index over decade

The AICPA just came out with their latest Personal Financial Satisfaction index (PFSi), and looks like it reached an all-time high of 40.2, suggesting that people are generally *happier* with their finances compared to the past 10 years of tracking.

Do you find the same is true for you?

I’ll hit you with my own set of indexing questions in a bit so you can gauge better, but first – more about this PFSi so it’ll make more sense:

The PFSi is a quarterly economic gauge that measures the personal financial standing of a typical American. The index is calculated as the Personal Financial Pleasure Index (Pleasure Index) minus the Personal Financial Pain Index (Pain Index). These sub-indexes are each composed of four equally weighted proprietary and public economic factors which measure the growth of assets and opportunities in the case of the Pleasure Index, and the erosion of assets and opportunities in the case of the Pain Index. A positive reading of the PFSi indicates that the average American should be feeling more financial pleasure than pain and thus have an overall positive sense of financial satisfaction.

So basically, it uses data – not surveys – to figure out the probability of people feeling good or not about their money.

Which as a personal finance enthusiast I don’t necessarily put much stock in since WE’RE the ones in control here more or less regardless of what the world is doing, but it’s still interesting to see and play along with 😉

Here were some other findings comparing the past 10 years of the PFSi:

  • Underemployment is at an all-time low (compared to an all-time HIGH exactly 10 years ago!)
  • The PFS 750 Market index* remains the leading source of financial pleasure
  • Pain from taxes is the only factor that did not improve over the past decade (shocking no one, haha…)

(*The PFS 750 Market index is an AICPA proprietary stock index comprised of the 750 largest companies trading on the US Market excluding ADRs, mutual funds and ETFs, adjusted for inflation and per capita.)

And then here are some pretty charts saying the same 😉

pain vs pleasure pfsi

pleasure vs pain pfsi

Pretty nerdy stuff!!

And we’ll keep the trend going here with my OWN version of the PFSi – or what I call, the PFSiONE (Personal Financial Satisfaction Index of Number One).

This will really determine how happy or not you are with your $$$ 😉

Jot down how you feel about the following 8 areas compared to 10 years ago, and use the ranking scale of 1-10 where 1 is BLEH and 10 is HOT MAMA!

Then share in the comments or just ponder alone!

  • Investments: __
  • Financial Outlook: __
  • Home Equity: __
  • Employment Status: __
  • Personal Inflation: __
  • Personal Taxes: __
  • Debts Owed: __
  • Career Potential: __

PFSiONE Total Score: __

70+ means you’re on FIRE, 60+ shows you’re a growing flame, 50+ means you’re starting to flicker (see where we’re going with this?), and then anything under 49 means you need to be re-lit 🔥

I’ll go first, then your turn:

  • Investments: 10 (was at $171k back then, now over $700k)
  • Financial Outlook: 10 (getting closer to financial independence!)
  • Home Equity: 7 (higher than in 2009, but not by much)
  • Employment Status: 9 (I’m still blogging here, but don’t have a renewed contract yet!)
  • Personal (Lifestyle) Inflation: 3 (bigger home, bigger yard, more kids, more animals, more food, more everything! (Though personal spending has drastically been cut down thank goodness))
  • Personal Taxes: 7 (paying more, but also earning more)
  • Debts Owed: 8 (no car or credit card debt anymore, but still have a honkin’ mortgage)
  • Career Potential: 7 (technically this should be a 10, but I worry I may be losing my “hustle” gene the more I enjoy life in the real world vs the online one! (*gasp!*))

PFSiONE Total Score: 61 – a growing flame! With only career and kids basically getting in the way of my perfect score, haha…

Good thing they’re so cute!

How about you? Feeling good compared to this time 10 years ago? Anything really surprise you going down the list?

The inflation part def. through me for a loop, wow… I’m doing SO MUCH better in my head compared to the reality! Haha… Life is sneaky!


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Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet

Like many people across the world, i started the year dispirited by the images of the fires in Australia. The country, it seemed, had become a testbed for the extreme climate conditions we’d all be facing soon. When I found myself in Frankfurt to visit Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet, i was bracing myself for similar reminders of how foolish and irresponsible our species is.

Strangely enough, that feeling of helplessness and discomfort didn’t materialise. Trees of Life might thus be one of the very few exhibitions that look at the Anthropocene without hammering the visitor with guilt. Instead of pointing us to all the things that are wrong with this world, the exhibition invites us to consider our real place in the world, in terms of space and time. It’s an invigorating, albeit profoundly humbling, experience.

Dominique Koch, Holobiont Society (film still), 2017

Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet. Video overview of the exhibition

Using artifacts from the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt as fragments of the world in the course of its evolution, the art exhibition presents bold new perspectives, new thought models that are anchored in science. Combined together, the artworks, the petrified trunk and amonites that had shared the Earth with early dinosaurs, the moldavites from a meteorite fallen on Germany 15 million years ago, Charles Darwin’s sketch of evolution and other pieces of scientific evidence challenge our anthropocentric worldview.

Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet inspires visitors to embrace new knowledge and critically reexamine established ways of thinking the world. Starting with a confrontation between “the survival of the fittest” and the more nuanced concept of the holobiont…

Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution

A holobiont is an assemblage of a host and the many individual species living in or around it. Together they form an ecological unit. Reef-building corals and animal bodies are examples of holobionts. The concept of the holobiont was formulated by evolutionary theorist and biologist Dr. Lynn Margulis in her 1991 book Symbiosis as a Source of Evolutionary Innovation. Her theory that interdependence was a key driver of evolution first met with severe criticism, even derision. By stressing the importance of symbiotic or cooperative relationships between species, her theory challenged the mainstream competition-oriented views of evolution. Her ideas met with resistance outside of scientific circles as well. First of all, her theory of tiny and big species relying on each other didn’t sit well with the “survival of the fittest” doctrine that is still driving the capitalist rhetoric. But her theory also indicated a paradigm shift. Suddenly, humans were not at the apex of the world anymore, they were part of an intricate system in which each of their actions had repercussions.

Dominique Koch, Holobiont Society, 2017. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo credit: Norbert Miguletz

Dominique Koch, Holobiont Society (film still), 2017

in her video Holobiont Society, Dominique Koch propels Margulis’ “heretical” theory of interdependency into the socio-political sphere. Her video installation interweaves images that evoke an ambiguous future with a soundtrack composed by Tobias Koch and interviews with theorists who have bittersweet, lucid and at times almost optimistic views on the world we are busy destroying.

American biologist and feminist Donna Haraway puts the holobiont concept in an ethical perspective. Since all species (no matter how small or modest-looking) are co-dependent on each other, we have to take care of each other. Ideas about actions to undertake for the future of the planet should be coming from below, not from positions of power.

Philosopher and sociologist Maurizio Lazzarato draws painful parallels between neoliberalism, with its ruthless appropriation of resources and accumulation of property, and the rise of the far right with its rhetoric of retrenchment that creates divisions between cultures, classes, sex, races, etc.

No matter how bleak their diagnostic, both Lazzarato and Haraway offer glimpses of hope: they see the rise of a new awareness, of new forms of resistance.

The images that accompany the interviews are ambiguous. They are visions of a powerful nature devoid of any human presence. They evoke a kind of Romantic sublime that doesn’t illustrate the interviews but gives the words of the thinkers a space to sink in and be further pondered upon by spectators. Electronic music by Tobias Koch fills in the room on a separate audio track. It’s only January but i doubt that this year i’ll come across any artwork that will move me as much as Holobiont Society did.

Sonja Bäumel, in collaboration with bacteriograph Erich Schöpf, realisation with molecular biologist Manuel Selg, Expanded Self II, 2015/2019. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Sonja Bäumel, in collaboration with bacteriograph Erich Schöpf, realisation with molecular biologist Manuel Selg, Expanded Self II, 2015/2019. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Sonja Bäumel, in collaboration with bacteriograph Erich Schöpf, realisation with molecular biologist Manuel Selg, Expanded Self II, 2015/2019. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Sonja Bäumel, in collaboration with bacteriograph Erich Schöpf, realisation with molecular biologist Manuel Selg, Expanded Self II, 2015/2019. Detail of the installation after 3 months spent at Frankfurter Kunstverein

Some scientific studies estimate that human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic creatures such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea. They live in our gut, on our skin. Our health (including our mental health) depends on them as much as they depend on us. They help to digest our food, strengthen our immune systems, influence our mood, etc.

This fairly recent discovery that more than half of your body is not human seems to further challenge the so-called human exceptionalism and to strengthen Margulis’ interdependency theory. The very existence of the microbiota challenges our idea of humanity, prompting us to wonder whether we are individuals, multispecies entities or ecosystems.

In her work, artist Sonja Bäumel pays homage to our microbial companions, revealing their existence and enrolling their “collaboration” in the development of artworks. She has several pieces at Frankfurter Kunstverein. The one i found most spectacular is Expanded Self II, a living cast of her body that challenges our assumptions about the body as a hermetic entity.

Bäumel used agar to create a cast of herself. What she left behind on the nutritive substrate was her own microbiome. The agar was then sealed and the living organisms that had covered her body were left to grow, morph, bloom, expand and reveal the full extent of the artist’s skin flora.

The living artifact suggests that the human body is not one unit but a symbiotic ecosystem, an accumulation of the smallest parts: microorganisms that inhabit and rule the human hosts.

Edgar Honetschläger, Go Bugs Go (film still), 2018. Courtesy and Copyright the artist

Edgar Honetschläger, Go Bugs Go (teaser), 2018

Collection of prepared bugs in systematic arrangement, about 1880. Installation View at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz. On loan: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Collection of prepared bugs in systematic arrangement, about 1880. Installation View at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz. On loan: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Edgar Honetschläger, GoBugsGo, 2018. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Insects are other life forms whose survival we depend upon. In the past, men preserved bugs by pinning them and displaying them in museum collections. We still do that of course but in front of the collapse of insect populations, more proactive measures are needed. The disappearance of insects puts the future of the planet’s ecosystems at risk: no insects, no food for the reptiles, the amphibians and the fish. No pollination either so no food for us.

In 2018, artist and filmmaker Edgar Honetschläger teamed up with economist David Wöss, art historian Henny Ulm, to set up GoBugsGo, an NGO that endeavours to keep insects, birds and wild animals in this world.

The initiative invites citizens concerned about the future to join forces, buy land and give it back to nature, providing thus plants, insects, birds and other animals with a refuge from fertilisers and other human interference.

With its hand-drawn aesthetic and laid-back style, the film is engaging and humourous. The message however is strong: No insects = no food! A simple call of action addressed to our bellies. Perhaps the most moving aspect of this type of art-meets-life project is that it reminds us that nature needs insects more than it needs us. Were humans to disappear, biodiversity would recover. If the insects that die out, however, flora and fauna might never recover.

Agathoxylon, (Detail). Age: Lower Triassic, 225 million years. Photo: Norbert Miguletz. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. On loan: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Stromatoliths in limestone (Cyano bacterial colonies). Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

The exhibition also uses (deep) time and outer space to contextualise our existence on the planet and further question anthropocentrism.

The Senckenberg Natural History Museum lent examples of stromatolites from its collection. The stromatolites exhibited at Kunstverein were formed in the Precambrian period, the earliest part of Earth’s history that extends from about 4.6 billion years ago to about 541 million years ago, when hard-shelled creatures started appearing. The fossils consist of layers of primeval cyanobacteria, a single-celled photosynthesizing microbe which Margulis regarded as the basic unit of all life and also a source of free oxygen in the atmosphere.

Meteorites are even more mind-boggling. Formed 4.5 billion years ago at the birth of the solar system, these fragments of asteroidal and planetary bodies contain the chemical elements that make up our entire solar system and from which all life on our planet developed. For example, the water in our oceans might very well come from comets, the calcium in our bones and the iron in our blood from supernovae explosions, and the hydrogen (which makes up roughly 9.5% of our bodies) is a primordial element from the Big Bang. We carry chemical substances within us that are derived from the stars in the cosmos. The most distant corners of the universe are thus within and around us.

David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl and Robin Gutell, Plot, 2003. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

All of the above suggests that the metaphor of the tree to represent the evolutionary process and the connections between species are no longer adequate.

Evolutionary biologist David Mark Hillis created the Hillis Plot, one of the first phylogenetic illustrations in which the position of humankind is visualised as a systemic part of the whole, and not in a superior position. The full-size graphic can be found online.

This project originated as an attempt at a new visualization in light of new laboratory methods and what was then becoming current knowledge. It was only with DNA sequencing of the genome that biologists were able to create a comprehensive taxonomic classification showing the relationships of organisms to each other.

It is a humbling representation of the place of mankind on this planet, miles away from Charles Bonnet’s Scala Naturae (1781) and other hierarchical visualisations that have placed mankind at the apex of all living beings and guided much of our Western way of seeing the world.

More works and images from the show:

Studio Drift, M16 + bullet, 2019. From the series Materialism. Photo: Ronald Smits

Studio Drift, AK47 + bullet, 2019. From the series Materialism. Installation view Frankfurter Kunstverein. Photographer: Norbert Miguletz

Ricarda Dennen, (Sound), Marius Jacob (CGI, Animation), Simone Rduch, Dario Robra, Martin Thul (Master Students, Intermedia Design Trier), Prof. Daniel Gilgen (Installation), Marcus Haberkorn (Sound Editing) (Hochschule Trier), Leben im Wassertropfen, 2019. Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Meteorite Horace. Discovery year: 1940. Installation View at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz. On loan: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Cotylorhiza tuberculata (Spiegeleiqualle), wet preparation, occurence: Mediterranaen Sea. Photo: Sven Tränkner / Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung. On loan: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Cotylorhiza tuberculata (Fried egg jellyfishes). Installation View at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz. On loan: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Sonja Bäumel, Installation view at Frankfurter Kunstverein 2019. Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Trees of Life – Stories for a Damaged Planet, curated by Franziska Nori with scientific advice from palaeontologist Philipe Havlik, remains open until 16 February 2020 at Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt.

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Love your 401(k)? Enter this competition to win $1,000!

Love your 401(k)? Enter this competition to win $1,000!

401k champion award

Just got this press release in my inbox and almost peed my pants:

Applications are now open for the second annual 401(k) Champion Award, the only award of its kind given to individuals who demonstrate the importance of retirement saving. Three $1,000 prizes will be awarded to 401(k) participants who complete an application and essay about their 401(k) experiences by Feb. 14.

$1,000 cash!! For basically just LOVING your 401(k)!! AHHH!!! Rub it in my face that I no longer have one, why don’t you!! Where’s that SEP IRA Champion Award??! (**Goes to buy the domain**)

But while I can’t enter this glorious competition, hopefully you or someone you know can! And then we can split the winnings and get half an iPhone each 😂

But seriously, you have to enter –>

From Julie Jason of Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers, Inc:


The 401(k) Champion Award honors employees who “love” their 401(k)s. A 401(k) Champion leads by example. He or she is committed to act now to secure a retirement someday in the future.

Purpose of the 401(k) Champion Award:

  • To energize 401(k) participants to learn more about 401(k)s
  • To identify and share the stories of 401(k) Champions
  • To encourage a dialogue about 401(k) and retirement security
  • To help employers share the benefits of 401(k)s, especially for youthful employees who may not realize how to maximize the benefits of long time horizons

To compete for the award, please complete this application form before the deadline. (February 14, 2020) Three award-winners will be announced in April 2020. Each will be recognized as a 401(k) Champion and awarded a cash prize of $1,000.

To be eligible to be considered, you must be 21 or over, and be currently participating in your 401(k).


It’ll take you some good time to fill it out, but all the better since most people are too lazy to try. Think about what a difference your 401(k) has made in your life, and how you see your future because of it!! Did it completely light a spark for you like it did for me??! Do you get an insane match that would make you an idiot NOT to take up?!

(True story: one of my old employers used to match 100% of 100% you put in up to the legal limit – vested right on the spot. And I was STILL only one of a few to sign up!!)

Think about it for a few and then enter here –>

I really want one of you to win it!! Just picture your face here for the 2020 awards!! 😉

401k Champions 2019

PS: Not affiliated with them at all or anything… Just a HUGE believer in 401(k)s and FREE MONEY!! Make sure your getting YOURS from your employer!


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