Chaotic Warfare

november 4th, 2009

Pascal Bernier
Hunting Accident – Deer, 1996

Pascal bernier

Hunting Accident – Tiger, 2000

Pascal bernier

Pascal Bernier
Butterfly, 1996-1998

‘According to theories on chaotic systems, the fluttering of a butterfly’s wing can eventually produce a hurricane.  Waging war against butterflies could perhaps become the ultimate weapon in the chaos strategy’.

Pascal bernier

Pascal bernier

Animal Anomalies

november 4th, 2009

Thomas Grünfeld
Misfit (Pig/Bird), 2001

Thomas Grunfeld

Misfit (St.Bernard/Sheep), 1994

Thomas Grunfeld

Thomas Grünfeld’s anomalous creations are some of the strangest and most surreal of contemporary taxidermy. The creatures from his appropriately titled Misfit series are composed of bits and pieces of animals, all flawlessly sewn together to create entirely new species. The Misfits are reminiscent of early natural histories in which strange and unfamiliar animals were described according to the bits and pieces of well known creatures. For example, the camelopard, now known as the giraffe, was described having the height and neck of a camel, the head of a stag although somewhat smaller, the teeth and feet of an ox, and a leopard’s spots. The armadillo was a pig with a turtle’s shell, and the sloth, part bear, part ape. The platypus displayed complete anatomical confusion, seeming to “possess a three fold nature, that of a fish, a bird, and a quadraped” as Thomas Bewick wrote in 1824. On inspecting the skin of a platypus for the first time in 1802, George Shaw, director of the British Museum, observed that it appeared to have “the beak of a Duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped.” Such a hybrid animal seemed too strange to be true, and Shaw claimed that “it is impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been some arts of deception in its structure.” In fact the specimen Shaw examined still bears the marks from his efforts to prise the beak off. As Shaw highlights, it is only a small step from describing animals as if they were composite to actually making a new species.

Thomas Grunfeld misfits Thomas Grunfeld misfits

Time’s Trial

september 2nd, 2009

Dieter Roelstraete 
Time’s Trial
On the Geological Imaginary in Contemporary Art

Sometime in the early nineties, the lights went out in modern and contemporary art museums around the world – some would say, paraphrasing Sir Edward Grey, the 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, not to be switched back on in our lifetime. This darkening of the countless white cubes of museums and galleries alike was meant to accommodate the entry of film into the hallowed space of art; although there had of course been film and video art before (think of Andy Warhol’s Empire or Sleep and Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen respectively), it was really artists like Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Matthew Barney, Stan Douglas, Douglas Gordon, Bill Viola and Gillian Wearing who ushered in the canonization of Hollywood-inflected film art (mostly conceived as spatial installations), and oversaw its subsequent transformation into what was probably the dominant, defining art form of the first half of the decade. Fifteen years on, it is worth remembering that quite a few of these artworks were in essence based on the simple tactic of slowing down, of deceleration; certainly some of the period’s most emblematic pieces (Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho immediately comes to mind, but so do Viola’s films) revolved around the aesthetics of slow motion and the freeze (here we could cite Jeff Wall’s cinematic photographs as a programmatic example). There are many reasons why so many artists active at the very forefront of art’s habitual appropriation of cutting-edge technology (digital in this case) chose to slow down rather than – perhaps the more logical instinct, given that it had become technologically possible – speed up, but the advent of globalization as an everyday economic reality obviously played a major part in this, for the new world order of the electronic global village came with a new scopic regime in which the ceaseless acceleration, accumulation and proliferation of (digital) imagery gave new depth of meaning to the old situationist catchphrase of the “society of the spectacle”. Deceleration (and occasional paralysis) in moving-image-based art came to signal a critical stance not unlike that of the Luddites in early nineteenth-century, Industrial Revolution-era England, and pushing the pause button on the video camera (or in an early version of Final Cut Pro) could easily be constructed as symptomatic of a broader social or cultural demand for what the Dutch so poetically (hence untranslatably) call “onthaasting”: the conscious decision to lead a slower life of well-being.
In more recent times, art’s anxiety-ridden, traumatic relationship with the onslaught of time – always going forward, never going back; always going faster, never slowing down – has taken on a very different form, that of a “historiographic turn in art”: an obsession with the (recent) past and retrospective glance, excessive modulations of melancholy and nostalgia (the preferred tone of much ‘serious’ art produced in the last eight years or so), a compulsive desire for all that is anachronistic, archival and obsolete – all conspiring to produce that which Friedrich Nietzsche damningly called “the malady of history.” I have written elsewhere (and extensively so) about this chronomaniacal complex, focusing on one modality of the historiographic turn in contemporary art in particular – that of the archeological: artists collecting, digging, dusting off; revealing, uncovering, unveiling; excavating and lovingly inventorying the dumbstruck traces, shards and fragments of a distant, uncharted history (1).  An important factor in motivating this widespread artistic interest in archeology, as one particular form of historiography, concerns the paradigmatic character of the archeological enterprise as an episteme, i.e. as a truth procedure and site of the production of knowledge: archeology is (by its very definition, namely that of the scientific study of history’s material sources) bound to a materialist view of culture, history and society, and it is always also a science of origins – “archè” being the ancient Greek word for “beginning” or “first principle”. Dig and ye shall find – and seeing as the earth, and the many mute materials that it hesitatingly hands over to the industrious digger, cannot lie, the process of excavation ultimately functions as a promise of revelation, of the unveiling of a hidden truth. And ahistorical truth, of course, is the stable rock of comfort and assurance we’re after in these hectic, disorienting times of the ceaseless acceleration and proliferation of data (connective, visual and otherwise), the silent, stone-faced permanence of the ruin or the excavation site offering refuge from the teeming culture of speed that permeates our daily lives to such dizzying, and ultimately petrifying effect.

The rock, the ruin and all that is solid and made of stone: here we seamlessly slip into the adjacent realm of geology, where time is measured on a scale that makes even the archeological seem jittery with continuous shifts and changes – where the building, completion and subsequent erosion of the pyramids is not very different, as a ‘historical’ process, from subatomic motion: geology, as the scientific study of the earth’s crust and physical properties, has revealed that our miniscule heavenly body is not that much younger, relatively speaking, than the universe as a whole (4,5 billion years as opposed to the cosmos’ estimated 13,5 billion years). Geology as the realm of stasis then, of what seems, to the untrained human eye, absolute motionlessness – the imperious eternal Same: no wonder that geology has been an (admittedly strange) source of philosophical comfort in its own right, and has made occasional allegorical inroads into the world of art, especially since the so-called “chronophobic” Sixties, when artists first started to tap into the rich reservoir of the geological (as well as astronomical, biological, botanical, ecological) imagination (2).  Any consideration of the meeting of art and geology must of course pass by (or rather, depart from) Robert Smithson’s pioneering work in the Land or Earth Art movement, as well as his prolific activity as a critic and renegade art theorist. A lengthy quote from his widely-read essay “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects” (1968) reminds us of Smithson’s keen awareness of art’s folding into an experience or philosophy of time that is aligned with the geological rather than the merely historical (or archeological): “The earth’s surface and the figments of the mind have a way of disintegrating into discrete regions of art. Various agents, both fictional and real, somehow trade places with each other – one cannot avoid muddy thinking when it comes to earth projects, or what I will call “abstract geology.” One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries. This slow flowage makes one conscious of the turbidity of thinking. Slump, debris slides, avalanches all take place within the cracking limits of the brain. The entire body is pulled into the cerebral sediment, where particles and fragments make themselves known as solid consciousness. A bleached and fractured world surrounds the artist. To organize this mess of corrosion into patterns, grids, and subdivisions is an aesthetic process that has hardly been touched (3).”  Smithson is best known today, of course, for his giant, megalomaniacal ‘interventions’ in the American natural landscape, most notably his Spiral Jetty (which, despite its monumental size, appears to be notoriously hard to find). Amid today’s incessantly expanding body of Smithson literature, the exegesis of Spiral Jetty in particular bears many markings of hagiographic hero worship (Matta-Clark is another favorite), yet there has been relatively little discussion of the relationship between geology and art’s epochal claim of “timelessness” (an important factor in all sainthood and sacrality): wasn’t Spiral Jetty geological – and no longer archeological, as was the case in the work of, say, Michael Heizer – in both scale and temporal conception because this best expressed the artist’s desire to move beyond time, to stand outside time’s merciless constraints – to ensure the kind of permanence and timelessness more commonly associated with the earth than with man’s cultivation of it? In the aforementioned essay, Smithson advises the artist to become the proprietor of art’s perceived timelessness, of the artwork as that which is a product of “no time at all”: “the deeper an artist sinks into the time stream the more it becomes oblivion; because of this, he must remain close to the temporal surfaces. Many would like to forget time altogether, because it conceals the “death principle.” Floating in this temporal river are the remnants of art history, yet the “present” cannot support the cultures of Europe, or even the archaic or primitive civilizations; it must instead explore the pre- and post-historic mind; it must go into the places where remote futures meet remote pasts (4)”  – into the spaces of geological time, such as lifeless deserts (in his exemplary case) untouched by man’s corrupting presence. For deserts, as the domains of death (or at least of a deep-seated hostility towards life), are zones “out of time” par excellence, their forbidding, morbid silence the wind-swept ‘proof’ of the alignment of geology with the a- or anti-historical – this timelessness the dream, precisely, of many a land art project.

As one may have gathered from these few sentences, I am no great lover of the desert, of which it is said somewhere, in Tuareg wisdom, that silence is its prayer – indeed, could the great nay-saying Monotheistic religions ever have emerged anywhere else? It is no coincidence that one of the worst touristic experiences of my life [details omitted] happened on the very edge of the Sahara, south of the Moroccan city of Zagora. That said, however, one of the finest artistic experiences of my life, in a strictly touristic sense, also involved a trip to desert – this one under the knowing guidance, it should be added, of the Los Angeles-based ‘artist’ collective Center for Land Use Interpretation, who organize bus trips into the Mojave desert, including such memorable highlights as a visit to the mining town of Boron (home to the largest borax mine in the world) and the ultra-atmospheric Mojave airplane boneyard along the California State Route 14. Perhaps this was such a memorable experience precisely because the Center for Land Use Interpretation, as a bunch of time bandits, pull off that which so many others like (and unlike) them do not (mainly because of the programmatic immodesty and ultimate humorlessness of the latter’s many attempts), and this clearly has something to do with the risky business of trying to marry art and science (geology in this case), art and information, art and pedagogy – and entertainingly, parodically so to boot. But the success of their venture (and relatively high profile in a contemporary art world that is justifiably averse to positivist, lab coat-clad posing) is ultimately also linked to the object of their loving, slightly mocking faux-geological scrutiny: the city of Los Angeles and its built-up surrounds, a city whose short history was chronicled by Mike Davis in a book that promised to “excavate the future of L.A.” Can a future be excavated at all? Can the geological clock be wound (fast) forward, and art dream about tomorrow for a change? Exactly because of Los Angeles’ perceived lack of (natural) history – another prominent chronicler of L.A. culture and lore, Norman Klein, dubbed it the capital of forgetting (5)  – and both its relative youth as well as its cultural obsession with youth, its historiography must be conducted in a spirit of slight irreverence, and there is perhaps no better way to do so than by reconstructing this history as a geological field trip along a string of imaginary excavation sites (such as a mining town): the geological fixation of many art practices, after all, always serves to signal art’s unease – in this case endemic to Angeleno culture – with the ruthlessness of the passage of time. And much more to the point of the present (that is to say, Maarten Vanden Eynde’s) curatorial undertaking, CLUI’s geo-archeological field trips do not concern natural wonders (the conventional destinations of such specialized tourism), but rather those naturalized ‘wonders’ left behind, in the haste typical of the Gold Rush’ provisional living, by man: theirs is not a geology of the natural, but one of the cultural world, proving that the daily practice of history (i.e. archeology) is a “quintessential tool for denaturalizing the social” indeed (6).  A geology, not so much of the earth, then, but of the patterns of scars laboriously carved into its surface, rendered legible as a document of man’s restless passing across even the world’s remotest expanses.
A geo-logy of the cultural world rather than the earth upon which it rests: a paradox this may seem perhaps, but isn’t ‘paradox’ the very logic of all art?

(1) See, among others, my “The Way of The Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Contemporary Art,” published in e-flux journal #4, March 2009 (to which the subtitle of the present essay refers); “After the Historiographic Turn: Current Findings,” published in e-flux journal #5, May 2009; “Whose ‘End of History’?”, published in Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Jahresring 56: Wessen Geschichte? Whose History?, Berlin: Kulturstiftung des Bundes & Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2009 (forthcoming); and “Listen to the Stones: Mariana Castillo Deball Among the Ruins”, published in Mousse Magazine #21, September 2009.
(2) The reference here is to Pamela M. Lee’s book-length study Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s. In it, Lee links 1960s art’s anxious examination of the issue of time (history, progress, speed) to the “emergence of the Information Age in postwar culture. The accompanying rapid technological transformations, including the advent of computers and automation processes, produced for many an acute sense of historical unknowing; the seemingly accelerated pace of life began to outstrip any attempts to make sense of the present. Lee sees the attitude of 1960s art to time as a historical prelude to our current fixation on time and speed within digital culture.” [From the MIT Press website, ed.]
(3) Quoted in: Robert Smithson, Collected Writings, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, p. 100.
(4) Ibid., p. 112.
(5) Norman Klein, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, London & New York: Verso, 2008.
(6) “History represents the quintessential tool for denaturalizing the social; as a result, it goes hand in hand with critique,” in: Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, London & New York: Verso, 2003, p. 8.

The River Is Always Greener On The Other Side

augustus 29th, 2009

Olafur Eliasson
Green River, Stockholm, Sweden, 2000

Olafur Eliasson

Green River, Moss, Norway, 1998

Olafur Eliasson

‘One Friday at half past one there I was on the bridge with Emile and a bag full of red powder and people starting to stare at us. I hesitated for a moment then emptied the bag out over the parapet and the wind whipped up this enormous red cloud. I could literally feel people in cars slowing down, the cars went all quiet. And there was this cloud, floating over the river like a layer of gas. When it came in contact with the water, all of a sudden the river turned green, it was like a shock wave. There was a crowded bus ten metres a way and everybody was staring at the water. I told Emile we should maybe move on, as if everything was perfectly normal, then I carefully put the bag in a trashcan, as if colouring the centre of Stockholm was the kind of thing I did every day. I went down to IASPIS and when I came out again my heart started jumping up and down like mad: the whole length of the river was completely green and all these people had stopped to look at it. Next day it was all over the front page of the papers: “The river turned green”. The colorant was absolutely harmless and there was no pollution whatsoever’.

Abstract of a conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Olafur Eliasson, 2002

Inland Islands

augustus 29th, 2009

Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83


On May 7, 1983 the installation of Surrounded Islands was completed. In Biscayne Bay, between the city of Miami, North Miami, the Village of Miami Shores and Miami Beach, 11 of the islands situated in the area of Bakers Haulover Cut, Broad Causeway, 79th Street Causeway, Julia Tuttle Causeway, and Venetian Causeway were surrounded with 585,000 square meters (6.5 million square feet) of pink woven polypropylene fabric covering the surface of the water, floating and extending out 61 meters (200 feet) from each island into the Bay. The fabric was sewn into 79 patterns to follow the contours of the 11 islands.

For 2 weeks Surrounded Islands spreading over 11.3 kilometers (7 miles) was seen, approached and enjoyed by the public, from the causeways, the land, the water and the air. The luminous pink color of the shiny fabric was in harmony with the tropical vegetation of the uninhabited verdant island, the light of the Miami sky and the colors of the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay.


Photo: Wolfgang Volz ©1983 Christo
The World Dubai

The World is a man-made archipelago of 300 islands constructed in the rough shape of a map of the landmasses of the Earth, located 4 kilometres off the coast of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Walk of Fame

augustus 29th, 2009

Richard Long
Circle in the Andes
, 1972

Richard Long

‘Nature has always been a subject of art, from the first cave paintings to twentieth-century landscape photography. I wanted to use the landscape as an artist in new ways. First I started making work outside using natural materials like grass and water, and this led to the idea of making a sculpture by walking. This was a straight line in a grass field, which was also my own path, going ‘nowhere’. I like the idea of making something from nothing. In the mid-sixties I began to think that the language and ambition of art was too formal and orthodox. I felt it had barely engaged with the natural landscapes which cover our planet, or used the experiences those places could offer. Starting from my home territory and gradually spreading further afield, my work has tried to explore this potential. I see it as abstract art laid down in the real spaces of the world. It is not romantic; I use the world as I find it’. – Richard Long –

Dusty Boots Line Sahara, 1988

Richard Long

Michael Heizer
Double Negative, 1969-70

Michael Heizer

Double Negative is Michael Heizer’s first prominent earthwork. Double Negative consists of two trenches cut into the eastern edge of the Mormon Mesa, northwest of Overton, Nevada in 1969-70. The trenches line up across a large gap formed by the natural shape of the mesa edge. Including this open area across the gap, the trenches together measure 1,500 feet long, 50 feet deep, and 30 feet wide (457 meters long, 15.2 meters deep, 9.1 meters wide). 240,000 tons (218,000 tonnes) of rock, mostly rhyolite and sandstone, was displaced in the construction of the trenches.

Industrial Gardening

augustus 28th, 2009

Hofkes, 1967

Panamarenko Hofkens

Three thick sheets of cardboard of about 1m2 are filled with a variety of inorganic trash and debris. From a prophetic kind of future vision Panamarenko nostalgically tries to restore and reconstruct the long lost city-gardens. These city-gardens functioned as urban alternative for life on the countryside and provided additional food for the unfortunate. By the steady increase of city residents (in 2008 a remarkable event took place: the majority of the world population lives now in a city) the necessity to have physical contact with the earth and live from the land is gone. People are used to this new, self-created landscape and recognize the urban environment as their natural habitat.

Peak Oil

augustus 28th, 2009

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Oil Peak, 2006

Maarten Vanden Eynde Oil Peak

Maarten Vanden Eynde Oil Peak

Oil Peak was produced during the third Enough Room for Space (ERforS) project in Tbilisi, Georgia where the most severe protests since the Rose revolution were taking place. In 2003 the new Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili called back his fellow country men, who fled Georgia in the past decades, to come and help rebuild the once prosperous and wealthy country into a modern western democracy. ERforS decided to respond to this call as well and check out how a new democracy was being introduced or rather implanted and what the side-effects are of such an enormous political and sociological shift. Ten ‘oil eruptions’ were planted on several locations throughout the city. In front of the parliament it caused a surprising commotion as the protesting crowd appropriated the work as a ‘black rose’, symbolizing the failure of the Rose revolution.

Oil Peak, 2008

Maarten Vanden Eynde Oil Peak

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. The concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, and the combined production rate of a field of related oil wells. According to Mathew Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, “…peaking is one of these fuzzy events that you only know clearly when you see it through a rear view mirror, and by then an alternate resolution is generally too late.” Currently there is no consensus on whether Peak oil occurred already, or is still to come.

The Invisible Line

augustus 25th, 2009

Gordon Matta-Clark
Splitting, 1974


Gordon Matta-Clark (1943 – 1978) was an American artist best known for his site-specific artworks he made in the 1970s. He is famous for his “building cuts,” a series of works in abandoned buildings in which he variously removed sections of floors, ceilings, and walls. Over a period of about three months in 1974, he made two parallel vertical cuts straight through the middle of a nondescript two-story suburban house in Englewood, New Jersey, removing the material left between the cuts as well as some of the foundation blocks on which the house stood so that one half slightly tilted away from the other, creating a wedge-shaped aperture between them.

Doris Salcedo
Shibboleth, 2007
doris salcedo

As the very first representative of a non-European tradition to be commissioned by the Tate Modern Unilever Series, Doris Salcedo has chosen an understated technique: that of inscribing into the ground of the Turbine Hall. The scar that begins like a thin, almost invisible line, at the main entrance gradually becomes a chasm in the earth at the far end of the former power station. This earthquake-like insertion evokes the brokenness and separateness of the post-colonial cultures of a non-white, non-European legacy. The installation is a metonymy for the term absence – an absence that negates the space of post-colonial peoples. The construction of a ‘negative space’, or emptied out space, corresponds to the trajectory of the history of post-colonialism. It is in Shibboleth (2007), where space is occupied silently and discreetly, not via a sense of domination or empowerment, that this trajectory can be traced.

An ‘imaginative landscape’ is at work in the heart of what Salcedo states is a monument to a European and modernist tradition of Western art; the Tate Modern. Shibboleth disrupts the Western view of landscape that creates a sense of things being in place and emphasises ‘a visual scape in which the observer stands back and distances himself or herself from the thing observed.’ In reversing the role of the viewer as not only witness but accomplice in an act of silence, Shibboleth proposes a different take on the role of Western art practice and traditions of art: here the earth opens up under the viewers’ feet, evoking an earthquake, an eruption of space, time and place. The view is negated by its downward spiralling motion, bringing to mind a story in Borges’ Labyrinths; negativity has become one with the ground, forcing a glance into an abyss that is disquieting in its silence.

– Abstract from a text by Stella Baraklianou, 2008

doris salcedo

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Restauration du Lac de Montbel, 2003

Maarten Vanden Eynde restauration

When Faith Moves Mountains

augustus 25th, 2009

Francis Alys (in collaboration with Rafael Ortega and Cuauhtémoc Medina)
When faith moves mountains,

Francis Alys

On April 11th 2002, 500 voluntiers were called in order to form a line to move a sand dune situated in the surroundings of the city of Lima. This human comb progressed pushing forward a certain quantity of sand with shovels in order to move the dune from its original position. The actual displacement was of an infinitesimal proportion, but not its metaphorical resonance.

Francis Alys

Maasvlakte 2, Rotterdam, NL (2008 – 2033)


© Michiel van Raaij

New land is being created to extend the port of Rotterdam in The Netherlands. After an international call for tenders the contracting consortium PUMA (Project Uitbreiding Maasvlakte) was contracted to build the first sites. PUMA is a consortium consisting of Koninklijke Boskalis Westminster NV and Van Oord NV, notoriously known for The Palm Islands and The World in Dubia, and will deliver the first sites for the first customers in 2013.
The vital statistics of Maasvlakte 2 provide a picture of the scale of the project. The site will cover a total area of around 2,000 hectares, half of which will be for industrial sites. Division between the main areas of activities includes 630 hectares for container storage and throughput (with a total container handling capacity of 17 million teu annually), 190 hectares for the chemicals industries and 180 hectares for distribution. The infrastructure includes 13 km of roads, 14 km of rail lines and 13 km of quay walls. The construction of the ‘new land’ will require a total of 365m m³ of sand over the whole project period (up to 2033), 240m m³ of which will be for the first phase of construction due to be completed in 2013. There will be 10.8 km of sea defences and the access channel for shipping will be 10 nautical miles long with a depth of up to 20m, a 600m wide port entrance and 700m wide turning basin. The sky is the limit…

Marjolijn Dijkman Maasvlakte2
Virgin Island, 2009
© Marjolijn Dijkman

The Possibility of a Mountain

augustus 23rd, 2009

Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács
Manifest Destiny, 2009
Serie of silkscreens, 120 x80 cm.






In the silk-screens one sees an imaginary sky that is silkscreened over photographs of a barren desert where some of the Mars mobiles have been tested. In these works Broersen & Lukacs investigate the notion close up and distance, of horizon and the frontier, in relationship to the American tradition of the sublime landscape.

James Turell
Roden Crater, 1979 – 2011

James Turrell

Roden Crater is an extinct volcano crater northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. Artist James Turrell purchased the 400,000 year old, 3 km wide crater in 1979 and has been transforming it into a massive naked-eye observatory, designed specifically for the viewing of celestial phenomena. He stated that he plans to open the crater for public viewing in 2011.

TIMES-ONLINE: Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth
August 30, 2009

THE Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change. The intervention by the Royal Society comes amid tension ahead of the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009 to agree global cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Preliminary discussions have gone so badly that many scientists believe geo-engineering will be needed as a “plan B”.

The interest in so-called aerosols is linked to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The explosion blasted up to 20m tons of tiny sulphur particles into the air, cooling the planet by about 0.5C before they fell back to earth.  The Royal Society is Britain’s premier science institution and its decision to take geo-engineering seriously is a measure of the desperation felt by scientists about climate change.

Based on a text by Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor of The Times.

Ocean Earth

augustus 22nd, 2009

Peter Fend
Ocean Earth Construction and Development Corporation, 1980

peter fend

The aim of the Ocean Earth Construction and Development Corporation is research on alternative energy sources. They use satellite imaging to monitor and analyze global ecological and geopolitical hot-spots, largely for media clients. Considering the world a living earthwork, ecological aspects are linked to and interconnected with artistic aspects. Ocean Earth was conceived as an instrument for implementing the goals of the environmental art movement, directly building upon the ideas of artists such as Joseph Beuys, Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark. Through inter-disciplinary collaborations and by connecting ecological imperatives with experimental new technologies, Fend asks ‘How far can art go?’, in drawing attention to a belief that artistic research can generate productive dialogue about global ecological problems and that it can be used to develop effective solutions.

Local Fuel Production – Afganistan Iran Holland, 2009

peter fend

Maquette of Afganistan basin as skatepark

peter fend Local Fuel production - Afganistan Iran Holland

peter fend

Systematic Landscapes

augustus 2nd, 2009

Pierre Huyghe
, 1999.

pierre huyghe

Installation view of a hole revealing wall painting of successive exhibition layers, 20 cm in diameter at the Viennese Secession. Like A geographical cross-section, Timekeeper uncovers and shows the successive layers left behind by previous actions (wall paintings) on the walls of the Wiener Secession. Just as the rings of a tree tell its history. Timekeeper is a caption that tells the story of its location. It allows the work of different artists to coexist. A kind of retrospective and group exhibition. 2003

“It’s very difficult to say what’s poetic in my work because it’s not something ‘mathematical’. It’s not a recipe. There’s no reason to have a recipe and say that I’m going to be poetic. I never do that. It’s rarely within the form itself. It’s more in the process. If there is something poetic, it’s poetic in the procedure . . . in the way things are made.”
– Pierre Huyghe

Maya Lin
Atlas Landscape, 2006

Maya Lin

Caspian Sea, 2006

Maya Lin

Homo Stupidus Stupidus; The Missing Meme

mei 27th, 2009

missing link

Ida – Researchers from the University of Oslo have suggested the specimen, which was found 95 per cent complete, may be the root of anthropoid evolution, when primates were first developing the features that would evolve into our own.

Discovered in Germany, Ida is so well preserved that even the outline of its fur can be seen. An incredible 95 percent complete fossil of a 47-million-year-old human ancestor has been discovered and, after two years of secret study, an international team of scientists has revealed it to the world. The fossil’s remarkable state of preservation allows an unprecedented glimpse into early human evolution. Discovered in Messel Pit, Germany, it represents the moment before anthropoid primates–the group that would later evolve into humans, apes and monkeys–began to split from lemurs and other prosimian primates. This groundbreaking discovery fills in a critical gap in human and primate evolution.

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Homo Stupidus Stupidus, 2009 A.D.

homo stupidus stupidus

homo stupidus stupidus

Richard Dawkins
The Ancestor’s Tale: A pergrimage to the dawn of Life
, 2005

Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor’s Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. The Ancestor’s Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls ‘concestors,’ those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago. It is a remarkable story which is still very much in the process of being uncovered. And, of course from a scientist of Dawkins stature and reputation we get an insider’s knowledge of the most up-to-date science and many of those involved in the research. And, as we have come to expect of Dawkins, it is told with a passionate commitment to scientific veracity and a nose for a good story. Dawkins’s knowledge of the vast and wonderful sweep of life’s diversity is admirable. Not only does it encompass the most interesting living representatives of so many groups of organisms but also the important and informative fossil ones, many of which have only been found in recent years.

Dawkins sees his journey with its reverse chronology as ‘cast in the form of an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past [and] all roads lead to the origin of life.’ It is, to my mind, a sensible and perfectly acceptable approach although some might complain about going against the grain of evolution. The great benefit for the general reader is that it begins with the more familiar present and the animals nearest and dearest to us?our immediate human ancestors. And then it delves back into the more remote and less familiar past with its droves of lesser known and extinct fossil forms. The whole pilgrimage is divided into 40 tales, each based around a group of organisms and discusses their role in the overall story.

– Douglas Palmer –



Richard Dawkins first introduced the word in The Selfish Gene (1976) to discuss evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples melodies, catch-phrases, and beliefs (notably religious belief), clothing/fashion, and the technology of building arches.

Meme-theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection (in a manner similar to that of biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity’s reproductive success. Memes spread through the behaviors that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Theorists point out that memes which replicate the most effectively spread best, and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.

A field of study called memetics arose in the 1990s to explore the concepts and transmission of memes in terms of an evolutionary model. Criticism from a variety of fronts has challenged the notion that scholarship can examine memes empirically. Some commentators question the idea that one can meaningfully categorize culture in terms of discrete units.


mei 12th, 2009

Hyungkoo Lee 
Lepus Animatus, 2005–2006
Resin, aluminum sticks, stainless steel wires, springs and oil paint
111 x 60 x 70 cm

Hyungkoo Lee

By Howard Rutkowski

The Punch Line

A black room frames the installation, which is dramatically spot-lit. A presentation of two skeletons, not unlike what one might see in a museum of natural history; a predator chasing its prey. Then the dawning – it’s Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner! Reduced to a science exhibit! Brilliant, clever and very, very funny.
Once the laughter subsides, something very interesting begins to emerge. The work is not merely clever or amusing in the way that Cattelan’s taxidermy animals are. There’s a whole new bit of forensic activity at work and the viewer is drawn into an exploration of the process behind this reductio ad absurdum. First of all, cartoon characters are not real; they are two-dimensional exaggerations of human behaviour. Yet, over time, they have entered the pantheon of global popular culture and are more recognisable than the real personalities that shape our world (Just consider the multi-national empire that is Disney). Our own predisposition to anthropomorphise furry (and feathered) creatures allows us to endow them with personalities that reflect our own and to place them in situations that mirror the trials and tribulations of our daily lives. So, if these cartoon figures can represent us in a simplified, yet extreme form, it follows that this form can be deconstructed and analysed.
Lee Hyungkoo’s approach eschews the pop psychological approach to deconstruction. What he is doing is actually physical deconstruction – more pop palaeontology – and it is detailed, thorough and completely worked through.

‘Familiar Tree’

This was Lee’s original idea for the title of the exhibition. As a play on ‘family tree,’ he was looking to describe the evolution of his creations and to evoke the empathy we all have with these animated characters. This new body of work began with Homo Animatus of 2002–2004. This was an homunculus – Latin for ‘little man’ – a cartoon exaggeration of human form (think of Elmer Fudd as a skeleton). The original homunculus was a creature with magic powers that medieval alchemists claimed to have created. Considering that Lee’s studio looks more like a laboratory than a typical artist’s atelier, the connection is even more easily drawn. Plus cartoon characters do possess incredible strength, resilience and resourcefulness: how many times has the Coyote fell off a cliff, only to rebound fully-intact in the next frame?
Homo Animatus was an extension of a series of earlier pieces where the artist physically sought to alter – to reduce to cartoon simplicity – his own anatomy. Using plastic forms, enlarging and reducing lenses, Lee created a variety of body costumes that altered both one’s appearance and one’s vision of the real world at the same time. Homo Animatus is, for Lee, the ‘Origin of the Species;’ in a peculiar and devolutionary way, of course, and in keeping with how animated creatures serve as stand-ins for their human counterparts. Canis Latrans Animatus (Wile E. Coyote) and Geococcyx Animatus (Roadrunner) followed and are now joined by Lepus Animatus (Bugs Bunny), Felis Catus Animatus (Tom), Mus Animatus (Jerry), Anas Animatus (Donald Duck) and his three nephews, Animatus H, D and L (Huey, Dewey and Louie).
‘Familiar Tree’ remains an appropriate description for this body of work. These are the ‘skeletons’ of characters/personalities that are as close to us and as instantly recognisable as our own inner frames.

Hyungkoo Lee

The Process

Stories of any kind usually require a build-up before offering the denouement. The joke involves a narrative before providing the punch line. Lee Hyungkoo works backwards. Merely seeing the work gives no clues to the complexity of its creation. Visually, the work can strike a chord and delight, amuse or bewilder, but examining its origins and development frames it properly.
Lee’s studio is a laboratory and could not be further removed from a scruffy artist’s garret. With a white-coated, masked team of technicians working in ‘clean rooms,’ the space is unlike any other. Bones of real animals sit on shelves alongside those of the works in progress. Clay constructions of skulls of imaginary characters provide a reference to those reconstructions of our fossilised ancestors. The walls are adorned with drawings of the anatomies of both real animals and their animated renditions. The tools and working methods are more akin to the procedures seen on the Nature Channel than the usual brush and paint-pot strewn environments one usually associates with the creation of contemporary works of art.
The adoption of Latin names to describe the individual creations underscores the faux-scientific approach, utilising the classifications associated with ‘kingdom, phylum, genus, species’ that categorise every living thing on the planet. Fans of the Roadrunner cartoons will recall that schoolboy Latin was often used to describe the characters, e.g. ‘Coyotus imbicilus.’

The Sources

The work itself, while sublime, delightful and amusing, requires an in-depth understanding of how all of this came to be in order to be fully appreciated. Observing the creation of this various works does provide the modus operandi behind Lee’s work, but where does the origin of the Origin of the Species lie?
Lee has cited Rodin and Giacometti as sculptural artists to whom he has responded within the development of his own work. Rodin was a breakthrough artist who sought to imbue the natural human form – warts and all – with a heroic sense of space, rejecting along the way the idealisation of the body that was previously the hallmark of Western sculpture. Rodin changed the way one could look at the human figure much in the same way that Lee’s optical helmets and body-distorting devices create alternative physical realities.
Giacometti’s own work passed through a number of critical stages – representational, cubist and surrealist – until he reached his apogee in Post-War Europe and sought to render the human form in all its existential angst. Giacometti found the inner reality of man.
Lee has spoken about the ability of these two artists to create a new sense of sculptural space. ‘Space’ is a concept that all artists working in three-dimensions must come to terms with. With this new body of work Lee has gone from the virtual space defined by his Objectuals series and has made the virtual a reality.

Anas Animatus L; Anas Animatus H, 2006
Resin, aluminum sticks, stainless steel wires, springs and oil paint
49.5 x 31 x 33 cm; 52 x 28 x 34.5 cm

Hyungkoo Lee