sábado, 5 de noviembre de 2011

Aurora Boreale interactive installation by Paola Tognazzi

Aurora Boreale allows to draw, moving freely in the space, wearing Iphones and Ipods interactive scenographies representing the organic architectures inside our bodies.

Aurora Boreale is an multi-user interactive audio visual installation based on mobile wireless sensory technology of movement capture data, analyzing the dynamic energies and rhythms of the audience's body and translating it into musical and visual projections. It allows the public to develop physical awareness, listening of the body and physical body-to-body communication. The technique is based on inertial accelerometer sensors, Real time control, audio-visual tracks manipulation, augmented sensorial reality, and the understanding of bodies range of movement and energy. The design uses Ipods and iphones as controllers with which the public can create with the movements of their bodies interactive soundscapes and drawings live. Through their movements they modulate in real time their own dynamics and the energy of the sound and the visuals, establishing implicit modalities of expression between movement-sonorous quality-drawing and movement-energy. The design of this installation is highly intuitive and transform the body of the public in the absolute protagonist, allowing them to understand and authentically participate in the work.

This installation focuses on categorizing the discourse on contemporary art around the body and the visibility of both the work and the creative process that it nurtures, researching new formats to engage the audience as co-authors in the live final production.

This work is based on the philosophy of using the whole body, not only the hands, to create complex audio- visual interactive pieces, where social interaction plays an primary role. It creates a space where, by the way technology is used and the stories that unfold, construct a secret world, in which the audience can move in. It has the sense of now, with the electronic technology, but it is very human and emotional, with the story and the mystery that unfolds during the interaction. The technical part doesn't overshadow the human.

For more information contact:



jueves, 2 de diciembre de 2010


Generation Z is an ongoing project by Andrei Smirnov and Lubov Pchelkina that is attempting to restore the censored history and culture of the Russian artistic Utopia of the 1910s and 1920s that was destroyed through its collision with the totalitarian state of the 1930s.

In Stalinist Russia, when someone influential was shot or sent to the Gulag, their physical disappearance was not enough - they were also retroactively transformed into traitors and saboteur, eliminated from the public record and wiped from group photographs as though they had never lived.

This was true also for the whole emerging culture of 1920s. By the late 1930s, the cultural and intellectual elite of the previous two decades had effectively been written out of histories, wiped out from the text books as though they had never existed, forming the surrogate, known under the name "The Soviet Culture".

In Russia the 1910-20s was a time of complex and inconsistent social and political movements that had resulted in the destruction of the Russian monarchy and, as it seemed then, offered great prospects for a new dawn of art and science. To many artists, enthusiasts, inspired with revolutionary ideas, avant-garde approaches to the arts became an integral aspect of social revolution.

It is difficult to name another period in Russian history (and perhaps beyond) in which the creative energy of so many people was developed to such a high level, leading to innumerable new inventions and artistic concepts. This intense period of activity fostered a self-organizing horizontal network of professional and social interrelations that offered a promising basis for future scientific and cultural development. It was a period that in many respects was cut off in its prime – a period of technological and ideological advancement that has made a significant contribution to international science and culture and yet which, for primarily political reasons, ostensibly failed to achieve its potential or to gain the recognition it undoubtedly deserves. Without effective local self-management, authoritarianism thrived, suppressing the horizontal social and professional creative networks that had emerged despite the oppressive context. The last phase of Stalin’s epoch brought an end to a generation of experimentation in music and audio technology. It is a story that is still relatively unknown in the West and is only now beginning to come to light in Russia itself – documents and archives surface with increasing regularity while public and academic interest in the period continues to grow.

Generation Z offers an introduction to some of the key figures of the period and their areas of research. Many of the featured documents, sound and footage has not previously been made available in the West and tantalizingly offers just a taste of the material from the period that remains to be explored.

The letter Z, is in many ways emblematic of the period. Z is for zigzag, the spark; it is the symbol of energy, of radio transmissions and communications, of electrical charges and of lightning. ‘From a spark the flame will flare up' – this popular expression of the time offers a sense of the spirit characteristic of it. Z, the spark, is a letter that represents the horizontal networks synonymous with the period, and simultaneously the counter currents of the vertical forces and pressures that stifled its development.

In 1918 the people's commissar of education, Anatoly Lunacharsky, told the composer Sergey Prokofiev: “You are revolutionary in music as we are revolutionary in life – we should work together.” While Prokofiev chose to emigrate, many artists and musicians chose to stay and were ready to move their workshops to factories and industrial plants to mark the transition from individual to communal creativity.

The dissemination of the electrical current and the proliferation of radio waves bewitched and delighted the Russian public, who responded with an almost religious fervour. These and other technological phenomena became the inspiration for widespread cultural activity. The Russian Futurist Velimir Hlebnikov asserted: “Radio has solved a problem that the Temple as such has not solved […] – the problem of joining the uniform soul of mankind to a uniform daily wave […] This problem is solved by means of lightning.” Pioneering avant-garde artist, designer, photographer and architect El Lissitzky commented: “Only creativity that fills the world with energy will unify us, just like a circuit of electric bulbs.” The new form of energy was a potent symbol of the inwardness that overcame a society in the process of creating the New Russia. The young artists of the Method group (S. Luchishkin, S. Nikritin, K. Redko, and A. Tyshler) had the aim of transforming the phenomena of radio and electricity to create dynamics of movement. Klement Redko named his proclaimed new artistic direction ‘electroorganism' in 1922.

The advent of electrical and communications technology was accompanied by large-scale engineering and building schemes, leading many to grand, utopian project ideas. The City of the Sun, a work by Russian Constructivist architect Ivan Leonidov, was a pioneering multimedia project about self-developing cities – buildings for intellectuals made of steel and glass that were connected to each other via global information communication systems. Along with this harbinger of the Internet and satellite technologies, other of Leonidov's concepts included world-wide video broadcasting and the creation of special ‘Brain' centers – control units for entire countries. Although none of Leonidov's projects were realized during his lifetime, he was in many ways ahead of his time by 80 years. In 1928 the architect Georgy Krutikov proposed the idea of ‘Flying cities,' in which he suggested using the ground for working, rest and tourism, and going to live in city-communes up in the clouds.

These new trends strongly affected Russian political and social spheres, and also played a role in the communal transformation of public consciousness. Special institutions were founded for the development and improvement of ‘the New Human,' engaged in the mastering and perfection of professional motion in sports, in working life, military activity, musical performance and so on. While some ideas were little more than science fiction at the time, many projects and proposals were more immediately viable or were actively seeking to develop the technology necessary to deliver them.

The revolutionary poet, anarchist and polymath Alexei Gastev (1882-1939) was a sort of attractor. From its inception he was the main ideologist of Proletkult - an association that subsumed more than 200 organizations in various areas of art, founded in 1917 by Alexander Bogdanov – the ‘father' of cybernetics. By 1920 Proletkult comprised around 400,000 members across Soviet Russia. Their proclaimed goal was to strive for the universal development of a ‘creativity of new proletarian culture,' to encourage and to focus the creative power of the proletariat in the fields of science and the arts.

In 1918 Gastev has established a network of trade unions according to model of the French syndicalists. Fascinated with Taylorism and Fordism, h e has been convinced that his main artistic creation was CIL – the Central Institute of Labour which was founded in 1921 and supported by Lenin. CIL was extremely unusual institution where the same space was shared by selflessly experimenting old fanatics-inventors and fascinated teenagers. Alongside with physiological laboratory there were laboratories for sensorics, psychotechnics and education. To achieve maximum results a whole bunch of “multimedia” tools and “interactive” gadgets were involved including all sorts of photo and filming techniques, cards with precise instructions, imitating apparatus (cabins of the cars, planes, various control panels) to produce training without the instructor in a very short terms.

It was Gastev who coined the term ‘Bio-mechanics,' which was widely used then in the psychology of labour as well as in the field of theatre, most evidently in the work of producer, director and actor Vsevolod Meyerhold. It was scientific research with an interdisciplinary and broad-ranging agenda. And at the foundation of this approach lay a powerful manmachine metaphor associating, in particular, with the concept of Organoprojection (1919) by Pavel Florensky - Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, mathematician and inventor, executed by NKVD (KGB) in late 1930s.

During the 1920s, in one of Gastev's exhibitions, entitledArt of Movement, stereo images demonstrated the physical trajectories of tools, hammers, weapons, the corporeal joints of workers, pianists and sportsmen. Most of this documentary was produced by Nikolai Bernstein (1896–1966) - the Institute's leading physiologist, who conducted a series of experiments that measured the trajectories and speeds of human limbs, while his subjects performed various labour tasks.

Although by 1938 CIL prepared over 500 000 qualified workers in 200 professions as well as 20 000 instructors of industrial training in 1700 educational centers, the toleration of state officials finished. Alas, the totalitarian State was not interested in the Utopia based on creative network of perfect, socially-engineered Cyborgs with liberated minds. It required screws for the soulless state-machine. Alexei Gastev was arrested in 1938, his institute was closed, documents were destroyed. Among thousands of other outstanding people, Gastev was executed on 15 April, 1939.

In 1922 in the port town of Baku in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the revolution composer, performance instigator and music journalist Arseny Avraamov (1886-1944), inspired by the poetry of Alexei Gastev, has staged his best-known creation - the Symphony of Sirens . This bruitist spectacular used the services of a huge cast of choirs joined by spectators, the foghorns of the entire Caspian flotilla, two batteries of artillery guns, a number of full infantry regiments including a machine-gun division, hydroplanes, and all the factory sirens of Baku. Conductor posted on specially built tower signaled various sound units with colored flags and pistol shots. S omewhat later, in 1923, working on the draftprogram of GIMN institute, Avraamov proposed a project named ‘Topographical Acoustics'. He suggested building powerful electro-acoustic systems that could be installed on aeroplanes, from which vast areas of land could be covered with sound.

During the 1910s and 1920s he experimented with ‘prepared' pianos, harmoniums and various noise sources as well as a symphony orchestra to develop new approaches to organizing sound that are very similar to recent techniques of electroacoustic and spectral music. As early as 1916, in the article ‘Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music', Avraamov predicted and explained different approaches to synthesize sound, including some of today's latest techniques of physical modeling. It was Avraamov who completed the first artificial Graphical soundtrack in 1930 based on geometric profiles and ornaments – produced purely through drawing methods. This was achieved by means of shooting still images of drawn sound waves on an animation stand.

Predicting the future of music technology Avraamov emphasized the importance of developing ‘Radio-Musical Instruments'. In 1927 Avraamov noted in one of his articles: ‘The theremin invention is the first real mine under the foundations of the old musical world and simultaneously one of the cornerstones of basis of the future!'

Perhaps one of the most charismatic figures on a crossroad of art technology and espionage was Leon Theremin (1896-1993), well known as an inventor of the first electronic musical instrument the Theremin (aka Thereminvox) (1919). After its invention Leon Theremin proclaimed the new technologically based trend in the arts. As a physicist, musician and engineer he worked on the development of innumerable projects and ideas trying to combine music and color, music and gesture, music and smelts, music and tactile senses. It is hardly possible to imagine now any synthesizers, burglar alarms or automatic door without him. His groundbreaking musical invention led to the application of the technology for a variety of civilian, military, surveillance and espionage purposes, adding to his status as a cult figure in electronic music in the West.

Theremin's life story is a fascinating and well-documented one, n ot least for his secret work for NKVD (the KGB). In June 1926, Theremin has finished his diploma project The System of Dalnovidenie - the first Soviet TV system. Shortly after that Theremin's chief professor Ioffe has patented the Thereminvox and managed an international trip for Theremin. At that time and later no international activities could be undertaken without direct supervision from Soviet intelligence services. Theremin was not an exception. According to his own memories, he had good financial support from the “Soviet Military Ministry” as he called it later.

Most of his inventions he did in US between 1928 and 1938. In his New York studio he has developed numerous musical instruments and scientific gadgets. Among them commercial RCA Theremins , the Rhythmicon - first rhythm machine ever made, the Terpsitone – a musical platform for dancers to control sound through the motion of their bodies.

August 31, 1938 he was illegally taken on board Starry Bolshevikship on which he has transported over 1000 kilo grams of electronic equipment to Russia. His intension was to develop an electronic music studio in Soviet Russia. It is not surprising that all equipment was confiscated by Soviet customs. Shortly after arrival in March 1939 Leon Theremin was arrested and condemned for 8 years of GULAG camps. Fortunately after one year in Kolima (the worst place in Siberia) he was moved to Moscow “Sharaga” – special prison for scientists. After release in 1947 he remained to work for KGB until his retirement in 1962 when he moved to Acoustical Laboratory at Moscow State Conservatory (former NIMI), where he tried to revive most of his American inventions and research. On April 1967 an article about him was published by the New York Times, which caused a fast and only possible in the USSR reaction: Leon Theremin was removed from his position and kicked out of the Moscow State Conservatory. The rest of his life Leon Theremin has spent working at Moscow State University in a position of technician at the Physics Department.

While the career of Theremin – physicist began at the Institute for Physics and Technology in Petrograd, his musical career has begun in Moscow, at GIMN institute. GIMN (the Russian abbreviation of the State Institute for Musical Science ) was founded in Moscow in 1921 in an attempt to centralize all activities related to musical science including disciplines such as acoustics, musicology, psychology, physiology, construction of new musical instruments and ethnomusicology. Nikolai Garbuzov was elected Director. From the beginning GIMN was oriented towards academic research. Among GIMN associates were many scholars and inventors from the realm of music and beyond, including Peter Zimin, Leonid Sabaneev, Leon Theremin, Nikolai Bernstein, Paul Leiberg, Boris Krasin and Emiliy Rosenov. Numerous research projects were conducted, articles published and experimental devices built. In 1923 GIMN supported the performance of the Symphony of Sirens in Moscow and even applied for an additional nighttime show, which was never realized. In autumn 1923 Arseny Avraamov was involved in the reorganization of GIMN. He considered this institution his own creation since most of its research activities were based on ideas he had developed and published in numerous articles between 1911 and 1916. It came to represent a struggle between revolutionary artistic approaches and the increasingly conservative mentality. In 1931 GIMN moved to the Moscow Conservatory where it was renamed NIMI and then again, in the late 1930s, as the Acoustical Laboratory.

In Russia in the 1920s and 30s, to get support or simply permission to develop a project one had to apply to the local authority which in turn, to avoid responsibility, would apply to the next bureaucratic level and so on. As the higher echelons used to be almost unreachable, proposals would normally get stuck within the bureaucratic mill, circulating between different levels and offices. In the realm of music and its technology GIMN/NIMI was the highest-level organization in Moscow. Projects from all over Soviet Russia seeking a patent or financial support needed a positive review from the appropriate GIMN/NIMI experts. In GIMN/NIMI archives one can find the set of surprising stories making up the section of the given exposition under the title the State and bureaucracy which is illustrating the process of interaction between the authoritarian State and creative community.

The late 1920s was also the period in which sound was being developed to accompany films and animations in Russia. In 1929 one of the leading experimental Soviet filmmakers, the painter, book illustrator and animator Mikhail Tsekhanovsky(1889-1965) was involved in the production of the first Soviet sound movie Piatiletka. The Plan of the Great Works . When in October of that year the first roll of film was developed, it was Tsekhanovsky who voiced the idea: “What if we take some Egyptian or ancient Greek ornaments as a sound track? Perhaps we will hear some unknown archaic music?” He was referring to the shapes and outlines of vases and how these could be used as if wave forms to generate sound. It was at this precise moment that technology of synthesizing sound from light, called the Graphical Sound techniques were invented and, possibly the first electronic soundtracks ever created. The group with whom he was working included the talented inventor and engineer Evgeny Sholpo (1891-1951) who was already working on new techniques of so-called ‘performer-less' music, but the most outstanding participant in the project was the aforementioned composer Arseny Avraamov. The next day they were already furiously at work on experiments in what they referred to variously as ‘ornamental,' ‘drawn ,' ‘paper,' ‘graphical,' ‘artificial' or ‘synthetic' sound. It was Avraamov who completed the first artificial sound tracks in 1930 and b y 1 936 there were four main trends of Graphical Sound in Soviet Russia: hand-drawn Ornamental Sound (Avraamov, early Boris Yankovsky (1905-1973)); hand-made Paper Sound (Nikolai Voinov (1900-1958)); Variophone or automated Paper Sound (Evgeny Sholpo, Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov); and the spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique (Boris Yankovsky). Yankovsky's idea was related to the separation of the spectral content of sound and its formants, resembling the popular recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. It was certainly one of the most radical, paradigm-shifting propositions of the mid 1930s. Researchers involved in Graphical Sound had to overcome enormous technical and theoretical (as well as more mundane) difficulties during its short existence. The results of their work were surprising and unexpected, and ahead of the group's time by decades. However, collision with the state was fatal. In less than ten years, all of their work had ended and was almost instantly forgotten.

This was true not just for the group working on artificial soundtracks but also for many other areas of experimentation and advancement in science and culture during the 1930s. While post-revolution, the relationship between state and pioneers had been a complicated one, the consolidation of Stalin's dictatorship as of the mid 1920s had resulted in a political sea change that gradually increased vertical pressure on the horizontal networks of society and culture, triggering a period of control, antagonism and repression among the most outstanding, skilled and innovative representatives of Russian society. Some people chose to emigrate but many lost their lives in Stalin's torture chambers. Most survived through assimilation, deleting from their CVs any connections or affiliations to avant-garde or radical activity. At the same time, many of their names and achievements were being written out of much of the ‘official' history. By the late 1930s, the cultural and intellectual elite of the previous two decades had effectively been wiped out or rendered powerless.

Fortunately by a miracle many documents considered lost have survived. In 2007 over one hour of graphical soundtracks produced with the Variophone were discovered in the State film archive in Krasnogorsk. The exhibition revolves around the archives of Andrey Smirnov and the Theremin Center of the Moscow State Conservatory, the Russian State Documentary Film & Photo Archive , the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture.

The first time the exhibition under the title „Sound in Z“ was held in Paris at the Museum of Modern Art Palais De Tokyo in the framework of the exhibition of the British winner of the Turner Prize - Jeremy Deller, under the title «From One Revolution To Another» during the period 25.09.08 - 22.01.09. The exhibition was produced by Andrey Smirnov with the participation of curators Matthew Price (UK) and Christina Steinbrecher (Germany/Russia), with support by Lubov Pchelkina, Nikolai Izvolov, Lev Bolotsky, Marina Sholpo, Jon Appleton (US).

By wonderful occasion the program of Graphical Sound was firstly presented at Palais de Tokyo which building has been constructed in 1937 especially for the French exposition at the Paris 1937 World's Fair.

Andrei Smirnov and Lubov Pchelkina, Moscow,
August 2009

Interesting ideas and works

During the 5th and 14th of November, the city of Istanbul became subject and object, host and platform to the fourth international Amber Art and Technology Festival. The festival explores and questions the impact of technologies on social, cultural, and political domains via artistic practices. This year’s theme was: DATACITY. The Mobile City’s guest blogger (and Amber conference-organizer) Zeynep Gündüz reports.

DATACITY conference

DATACITY takes the modern city as a data cluster as a departure point to examine novel experiences and perceptions of the city and its inhabitants. The artworks exhibited in the Amber’10 exhibition explore ‘ways of life’, production and consumption patterns, and politics of the DATACITY. The main exhibition displays art projects of Turkish and international artists; these projects aimed to revisit and rethink how technologies extend and/or modify the experience of the city. (An overview of participating artists and their work can be found here)

A prominent side-event was the Amber conference, which took place on the 6th and 7th of November in the cinema salon of the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. At the conference the meaning of DATACITY was explored from various perspectives.

Horst Hortner, one of the founders of Ars Electronica, for example, presented a new interactive interface –SimLinzMobile- that provides different interaction modalities to generate and visualize views of datasets on statistical and real-time information of a city. (more information on Ars Electronica can be found here)

Keynote speaker CJ Lim, on the other hand, presented the notion of “Smartcity” by which he addressed the issue of‘urban agriculture’ or how the production of food can affect the architecture of an urban city. (More information on the book Smart-cities and Eco-warriors can be found here)

Set-up for Rhythm of City

In contrast to most presentations in which the speakers start by introducing the content of the presentation, Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet Sola’s presentation started in silence. Instead of the speakers, a metronome was placed on the table. Gradually, the metronome started moving; however, it did not accompany a music instrument. Moreover, the metronome moved in various rhythms: at times it slowed down and at times it moved very fast. What made the metronome move? And what made it change its speed? At this moment, Guljajeva and Canet Sola explain that we have witnessed the art installation “The Rhythm of City”. This project can be described as a digital update of Bornstein and Bornstein’s (1976) study, which showed a positive correlation between the walking speed of pedestrians and the size of the city. In “The Rhythm of City”, Guljajeva and Canet Sola aim to capture the rhythm of a city by extracting geo-tagged social content and translating this data into the rhythm of a physical metronome in real-time. In other words, what made the metronome move and what made it change its speed was the data such as, SMS messages, videos of the inhabitants in certain locations in Istanbul. (A detailed explanation and demo video of this project can be found here)

The last panel of the second day, however, balanced ‘positive’ visions of DATACITY by critically questioning the rapid increase of technologies in everyday life, the difficulty of being anonymous and the impossibility to not be ‘seen’ in contemporary everyday life. Presenters, such as Georg Russeger and Ebru Yetiskin reminded us that data means translation and that translation inevitably leads to selection, exclusion, and loss.

Knowbotic Research in the MacGhillie suit

The presentation of Christian Huebler from Knowbotic Research addressed questions of public invisibility and camouflage within a world infiltrated by omnipresent technologies. Huebler made his point clear as he left the room dressed in a MacGhillie suit. As Huebler explains, the so-called MacGhillie suit was invented in the 19th century for hunting and was later also used during the First World War. The MacGhillie’s camouflage effect leads to the anonymisation and neutralisation of the person who wears it in public, and therefore, served the interest of Huebler’s objection to DATACITY.


macghillie is roaming around, defying a goal, without intention, withdrawing from purpose, crossing the cybernetic loops. macghillie defies classification, attributions are shifted into the void, no will to communicate. recognition does not help. how long this can last in a postutopian space? are there moments for something that does not want to be anything?

Urban sites are visited by a figure, dressed in a camouflage suit, who shows neither the traits of an individual, or even of a person. The socalled ‘Ghillie Suit’ was originally invented in the 19th century for hunting and that was later also used during the First World War. Its camouflage effects the anonymisation and the neutralisation of the person who wears it in public. macghillie, a -prefer not to- figur, an actor without idenity, transforming past and future into here and now, oscillating between the hyperpresence of a mask, and visual redundancy. It traverses the modern urban environment in which conspicuity holds ambivalent currency, wavering between cumbersome affirmation and visual arbitrariness. It is a variation of types like ‘Bloom’, ‘Bartleby’, or the ‘man without qualities’, which have transgressed their original literary existence and have become the tropes of philosophical debates around the postmodern politics of subjectivity.

The ongoing project consists of 3 parts:

  • macghillie murmuring, withdrawing from self, re-visiting the history of camouflage and cybernetics. voices materialise and self oscillate in a physical space, the coordinates are real, but unknown. the permanent audio sphere can be accessed live online. http://macghillie.krcf.org/1
  • macghillie here, there, anywhere. urban remnants. http://macghillie.krcf.org/2
  • free access to macghillie-suits in different towns, don`t become a STAR, become macghillie! http://macghillie.krcf.org/

Share Festival, Turin. 3.-10.11.10
Folkwang Museum Essen, Hacking the city, 16.7.-26.9.10
U- Zentrum für Kunst Dortmund, TRUST 31.7.-5.9.10
Karthause Ittingen, Kunstmuseum Thurgau, Schritte ins Verborgene, 20.6.-12.12.10
Expodium Utrecht, Mind the Bollocks!, 7.5.10-11.6.10
[plug.in] Basel, online project beam me up, January 15th to March 14th 2010
Kunstpassanten Zürich, urban intervention November 2009-June 2010
Cabaret Voltaire Zurich, September 09, clandestine 4 days-Performance


The event “400 seconds” gave all artists 400 seconds to explain their art projects in front of the public. In this sense, 400 seconds can be framed as a kind of “speed dating” with the artists. Finally, the four performances in “Lunapark”, were the artistic outcome of a research on the impact of technologies on issues such as, personal traces, memory, and the fall and rise of traditions in the DATACITY. The performances were repeated several times per night and the repetitive character of Lunapark allowed the public to experience the performances more than once.

lunes, 25 de octubre de 2010

La idea es buena

Crisis of competence

The Contemporary Artist as Role Model in a Crisis of Competence

The Contemporary Artist as Role Model in a Crisis of Competence

In a universe of increasing incompetence, in which amateurism flourishes, the contemporary artist offers an interesting role model. Society can learn much from the ways in which the contemporary artist makes his ignorance effective.

As a profession, contemporary art occupies a special position. Lacking a clear standard of craftsmanship, it is not a real métier: neither technical nor aesthetic criteria exist that can help identify a ‘competent work of art’. In this respect contemporary visual art differs from other art forms, such as music or dance, that still have solid minimum criteria for technique and skill.

Should artists be able to hold a hammer? In contemporary art even insiders rarely agree about criteria of artistic quality. A particular artist’s work may be judged as pathetic wreckage by some and at the same time as a revolutionary new aesthetic by others. This lack of consensus about quality and artistic merit will continue to provide material for Gerrit Komrij to write cynical newspaper columns. It is, however, actually a fascinating characteristic that makes the contemporary artist an unexpected role model in today’s society.

At the moment, we see around us a real, overall crisis of competence. The most distressing examples of this have shown up in the financial sector, with banks, investors and insurance companies (‘The incompetence is baffling,’ according to financial markets supervisor Hans Hoogervorst, last April). Major infrastructural projects that have stranded or failed completely also indicate a fundamental lack of expertise, in this case on the part of government authorities and project developers. ‘When the government stopped building bridges and roads, knowledge and expertise shifted to market players,’ according to the city of Almere's alderman, Adri Duivesteijn (NRC Handelsblad, 12 December 2009). But those market players themselves also seem to be failing. Contractors and subcontractors building the sheet piling for Amsterdam’s new metro line have made tremendous blunders, with well-publicized, disastrous consequences. From other sectors of society, including elementary education and forensic psychiatry, painful cases of incompetence are being reported as well.

Universities, colleges, government bodies and other organizations are meanwhile obsessed by the phantom of ‘excellence’. But the more they repeat this mantra, beating the drum of the knowledge economy, the clearer it becomes that society as a whole finds itself in a crisis of competence.

Incompetence is certainly a thing of every age. The current crisis may be due to the fact that technical, managerial and economic systems have become so complex and intertwined that minor incidents are more likely to have far-reaching consequences. Automation has in any case proven to be no remedy for the unreliable human factor. In fact, it only multiplies the consequences of human failure.

There is also a clear ideological component. Within the neoliberal network economy, knowledge tends to dissolve in a quick succession of temporary projects, causing a loss of focus and concentration. The durable institutional logic of the state, the school or the museum evaporates in an ever more rapid sequence of reorganizations and management trends. To control and innovate the organization itself has become an obsession that is making managers lose sight of more substantial tasks.

In this context, the contemporary artist is an interesting role model. In a universe of increasing incompetence, only artists know how to make their lack of expertise productive. Contemporary artists are professionals without a profession, craftspeople without a craft, dilettantes with infinite potential. Only artists routinely subject the professional content of their discipline to debate, as part of their everyday practice. With each new work they make, artists embrace the crisis of competence instead of shifting it to others, as is the case in most other domains. They accept complete responsibility, in defiance of the neoliberal tendency to delegate and outsource. By definition, the creation of a work of art entails a critical test of the criteria of creative competence and artistic skill. Thus visual art can be considered as a form of societal meta-production: any contemporary work of art is like a condensed re-enactment of the crisis of competence in a public context.

What are the implications for art schools? The ideal visual art curriculum neither denies nor conceals the lack of substance at the heart of the artistic profession, nor does it anxiously try to renew or reconstruct some lost craft. Instead it makes this fundamental condition the focal point of a permanently reflective practice. However paradoxically, the true competence of the artist is the ability to work with his or her own incompetence. Art students have to learn to face the indeterminate nature of their profession, without recourse to generally valid methods and techniques.

In the mundane reality of both politics and business, such critical capacity has been lost. Due to pressure from voters, shareholders, consumers and the media, the fear of making mistakes has overtaken all other concerns. Even if the contemporary artist is not able to come up with a general solution to this dilemma, the artistic attitude in dealing with (in)competence is well worth a closer look. Art education may be the only place where this particular type of ‘competency training’ exists.

Pascal Gielen teaches art sociology and cultural policy at the University of Groningen and is Professor of Arts in Society at the Fontys University of Fine and Performing Arts in Tilburg. Camiel van Winkel is Professor of Visual Art at AKV|St.Joost, Avans University in Den Bosch. They are currently doing a joint research project on the hybridization of contemporary artistic practice.

Translated from the Dutch by Mari Shields.

domingo, 24 de octubre de 2010


there is something i don't get: what's this spanish obsession for showing cunts and dicks in the arts, be them in written words, on stage or on video and paper, cunts and dicks are everywhere.
Now seriously some are bigger some are smaller but seing one 2 3 4 they are just cunts and dicks. Really it's boring. What about some methaphors or what about some personal touch
I really would like to see, one day, an exposition here that says: This is my dick or this is the dick of the man I love and that gave me so much pleasure
or this is my dick that gave love and pleasure to all those cunts. and viceversa. Names, faces and email addresses to check the references, so that there is no cheating about... aka proves.

Only today i saw around 26 of them first in a catalogue of 2003 spanish expo of photoespana
then navigating a performing art site. Just now watched a xformance that goes like this:
A woman takes 3 minutes to clumsily open a can of soup.
once she manages to open it, she starts spilling the soup on the floor
mumbles incomprehensible noises
takes a pair of scissors and cut her jeans around the crotch puts her fingers on her cunt as masturbating then spills some more soup.
Performance over. Big ovation.
If there would exist the sgae for performances (you know those that charge you money for music copyrights) , this one would have cost the performer a lot of money. A copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy...... just to say i've seen this piece a 100 times. In the 60th maybe it had some reason to be but in 2010 it just got old.
Guess one day i'll make the experiment myself: ask four persons to enter a space and do these sequences. As a project is defenitely cheap and doable. No rehearsals needed given the pedestrian quality of the actions, and very easy access to those props... cutting the jeans ... that's the more expensive detail, easy to solve though.
The title: If you think this piece is provocative or thoughts provoking maybe it's time you pack your suitcase and move abroad.
It's 2010 Sex and masturbation now belong to the realm of beautiful and natural experiences, it wasn't a short journey but here we manage to arrive, big thanks to tv bytheway, if you still empathize with whom portrays them as shocking....move to a better environment.