Convergence Sessions creates a hub that hosts a series of workshops, talks and performances, and takes place over two days on Friday and Saturday at London’s Behind The Bike Shed. Some of our recommendations include:
Femke Herregraven’s work is rooted in the tension between the material and the digital. Coming from a design background, the Amsterdam-based artist started travelling to remote offshore locations with the intention of mapping and making visible the infrastructures of financial markets; the ones kept away from the public eye. They’re what she calls “geographies of avoidance”, in an interview conducted through Skype from her location in the Netherlands capital, and they’re a part of the transatlantic cable communication network, begun in 1854 and triggered by engineers and financiers.
I’d come across Herregraven’s work at a panel discussion at this year’s Transmediale 2016, in Febuary where she presented virtual platform ‘Liquid citizenship’ (2015): a speculative parcour, a sort of obstacle course, through which a user with a randomly assigned profile can try out various citizenships, visas and passport possibilities. A participant can be an Afghan or Togoan national, for instance, aiming to reach a different country. The game reveals the difficulties of achieving such a basic condition for a non-wealthy and non-western citizen, as well as the artist’s interest in language, interfaces and politics. That same month Herregraven presented as part of the Neoliberal Lulz group exhibition at London’s Carroll/Fletcher, exploring the material world of finance, through sculptures and videos around trading algorithms, remote aluminium storages and tax evasion opportunities.
As a whole, Herregraven’s work tackles the material basis of economic systems and the relationship between human and machine, through affective algorithms and the creation of new geographies out of an intangible colonisation; one that takes over landscapes and off center locations through cabling systems and data centers. Places like the Arctic, Lannion in Brittany or Curaçao in the Caribbean are some examples of spots where these cables are located and are now places of Herregraven’sproduction, speculation and research. Because these infrastructures are invisible, her travel is purely a symbolic action; a starting point for reflection on markets and dislocated communication structures, developing into a focus on finance as a hyperobject: something that has an effect and a widespread presence, yet cannot be seen.
Ideas of potential of disasters becoming opportunities and ‘Black Swan’ events (as, in those that are outside of our own logical understanding and operational reach) are a core narrative to Herregraven’s work, as well as speculative ideas around value, and how immaterial elements, including language, can affect value-generation. There’s a hanging sculpture called ‘Subsecond Flocks – When you startle awake at four in the morning it’s not because you’re feeling happy’(2016)made out of materials involved in these kinds of predictive technologies —acrylic stack and tubes, a hand engraved carbon stick and rubber cords —as well as a rudimentary digital environment, called ‘Sprawling Swamps’ (2016), which uses satellite photos and self-generated imagery to detect unstable territories.
Herregraven’s work reaches a wide range of formats and levels of clarity and abstraction, swinging from didactic, interactive interfaces and games, to sculptural and video works operating as poetic and more subtle gestures. Her political narratives reach a spectrum of topics, from tax evasion to citizenship bureaucracy, high frequency trading or financial speculation. More and less obvious configurations navigate the reciprocity between technology, nature and society. As she explains, Herregraven consciously explores the possibilities of the mediums available, in order to become either more didactic, or more cryptic. The way her work is mediated, or is calculated as mediation, affects the way we perceive things, revealing that many things are not where we think they are, thus triggering our imagination.
Tell me a bit about your research regarding the material side of telecommunications technology and financial markets in offshore locations, and the reciprocal effect between nature and technology in terms of infrastructure.
Femke Herregraven: On the one hand, you have certain locations functioning as remote places out of sight, catering the physical, backward infrastructure and legal framework of financial markets. These remote locations are a very strong base for the financial world. Places like Wall Street have become mainly symbolic, whereas other places, which are part of the actual operations and infrastructure, remain dislocated.
At places like Mauritius or the Arctic there is this anti-climax moment, as you spend around 15 hours in order to confine yourself with this massive global infrastructure but there is nothing to see. It is a moment of disenchantment and, as I can’t rely on seeing anything, I usually work with coordinates, which is the interesting part of it. Those locations are also conditioned by the nature of the matter they are composed of: like ice or a temporary island that emerges from the sea because of a submarine volcano, or a swamp.
I am interested in the swamp’s immateriality and its functions through language because, looking at it symbolically and historically, it represents a place that we morally condemn and lock out. There is sickness, insects and dirt in it… Gossip is a sort of information intelligence in a social network. By gossiping and rumouring we also, as humans, get an idea of where our position is in a social group. Recent trading algorithms are structured around how people gossip, which is symbolically connected to the swamp. Underlying a sort of communication structure for these algorithms, they process the way gossips spread in society.
Your work ‘Subsecond Flocks – When you start awaking at night it’s not because you are feeling happy’ at Carroll/Fletcher reminded me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan theory around the unpredictable and the random. Is that an influence in your work?
FH: For that I was interested in the notion of this whole sub-second world with random events that can only be accessed retrospectively and in the fragments of the world that can’t be perceived or accessed but are thus very influential. I am looking at how these trading algorithms increasingly scan other data than just financial data, like Facebook or Twitter and how they scrape online audios and interviews.
As an example, the Associated Press Twitter account got hacked by someone who tweeted something like “the white house has been bombed, the president is injured”. Four thousand retweets happened in a very short time and the trading algorithms detected the panic, taking over that emotion. In a few minutes billion dollars evaporated, due to these trading decisions. Algorithms can be very smart but not on that time skill: they are, either fast and dumb, or really smart and much slower.
For this work, I was interested in creating a material evidence or witness and introducing the idea of contingency and of how emotions are exchanged between human and machinic systems. It also speaks about the unpredictability of events that are really out of our reach, coming through the concept of the ‘Black Swan’, in a more literal and also perhaps more poetic way. I am increasingly interested in creating my own visual language and vocabulary to explore and produce this kind of fictional material.
Regarding the titles, you get sometimes more literal and other times more symbolic, reaching some abstraction through the way you use language.
FH: That is something that I was recently exploring. Through my education and research in design, I’ve learned to clarify things, make things visible and understandable. But, at a certain point, I am realising that things are not that simple, or that black and white. The moment you allow more ambiguity in the work or more space for things that we don’t know, you also give a place for art. In art there is an inherent acceptance of the ambiguous and the uncomfortable, whereas in design it is often about compensating that or minimising that. This shift is reflected in the titles as well.
The range in the choice of formats is varied: sometimes you use online interactive interfaces and other times more sculptural, static or closed, there is no place for interaction…
FH: At the moment I am aware of this diversity and I would like to keep it in my work as it arises many questions, which requires constantly switching mediums and formats. I was educated as a graphic designer within a certain medium. When I started looking into finances, not anymore as this field where ‘oh…everything is happening and what is happening in there is bad…’ but rather getting to understand certain philosophical questions that lie underneath: questions of time, differentiation and exclusion, which I think are very contemporary, in addition to the whole thing of artificial intelligence, autonomy, what happens when capital flows become so big that we can’t control them anymore, etc.
The moment I get into these types of questions, each work acts as an experiment or attempt to answer or tackle them. I could never commit to one format only. The tension between the material and the digital is very productive in my work. It is great to explore not only from a conceptual or research-based point of view, but also an aesthetic one, while practicing new things and new techniques.
I sometimes don’t want to reduce the complexity whereas in other works things are not really accessible, only if you make an effort. It’s also about this push-and-pull effect, in terms of how much you reveal the research and how accessible you make it to the viewer. Sometimes it is good if there is a not didactic experience. With the work ‘Taxodus‘ (2012-2013), which is very didactic, I found myself within this contemporary art realm and I knew I wanted to communicate that back then but now, I’d rather be more speculative or produce other ideas or fictions, or uncertainty.
In your work, ‘Liquid Citizenship’ (2015) for instance, you tackle ideas of citizenship and rights. There is this idea of nature-human-technology melting at the same time as the inaccessibility to basic rights.
FH: Yes, the notion of citizenship is a privilege and not something that you have access to by default. There is a tension between the innovations and discussions in the Netherlands —where I grew up —and the situations I encounter when I travel. When I have to travel for the cable landing points, I see the clash between this immaterial world and the questions of the financial world, which interact with places and islands, communities who have to fight for very basic things every day.
There was this place where farmers were thrown out from their homes for this new cable landing point, due to a small data centre behind their village. Often, whole communities, which can’t read or write are dislocated by governments, sent to caravans where they are introduced to computers and the technology for which the invasion of their space is needed. In order to create progress on one side of the world, we ruin another part. Progress is based on exploitation.**
The European art fair giant, Art Basel is running in its home town, running June 16 to 19.
Each year Basel, and Switzerland in general, welcomes not only its galleries, artists and loyal fair goers but also an array of other activity and slightly smaller performance festivals and art fairs. LISTE is on in Basel, Manifesta 11 is taking place in Zurich, which opened its doors on June 11, while online mini art fair, Dream Basel will run across the same dates as (official) Basel, inviting the likes of London’s Seventeen Gallery and Mexico City’s Lodosto curate booths —or clouds.
Running concurrently will also be a group show called NOTITLES_02, a gathering of artists and their works as a part of a project curated throughout 2016 by Sophie Yerly.
Party Booby Trap is a palindrome, a device British artists Thomson & Craighead often use for their titles, and will see the pair install new work inspired by “sources ranging from nuclear waste to self-help literature and genetics”. It is not the first time they have worked with self-help content, previously making a video with a live stream of first-person sentences fit with footage of a burning house. They splice together scale and scales of time in single artworks and this time will hark back to a seminal religious text in order to link it to belief systems of all kinds, including democracy, science and art itself.
Dense Mesh includes artists Lisha Bai, Ryan Lauderdale, Hannah Levy, Michael Jones McKean, Wyatt Niehaus, Kate Steciw, and Chris Wiley and will respond to a paragraph written in 1985 by Czech philosopher Vilem Flusser that makes speculative claims about the total nature of vision and envisioning. The show will ask questions about dealing with the envisioning capabilities of technical images, which unlocks an unprecedented degree of creative agency for humanity.
The event is part of a special season-long series collaboration titled Networked Culture, Digital Politics between Carroll / Fletcher and Verso Books which examines the relationship between culture and digital technology.
Jacques, author of Trans: A Memoir published by Verso this year, joins artist and writer Darling to discuss feminist thought, queer theory, non-binary and trans-identities and “their articulation in online spaces”, as well as the general artistic practices and explore both body and technology.
The exhibition takes its name after a term coined by literary critic Marjorie Perloff (and referenced by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith), meant to convey the romanticism and outdatedness of the term ‘genius’, especially in the Information Age, and the need for our notions of creativity to evolve along with our culture to include acts previously thought disreputable, like archiving, reframing, filtering.
Constant Dullaart‘s exhibition is dense. As the Berlin-based artist’s first UK show at London’s Carrol/Fletcher, it offers a generous insight into the complexities of networked media and the humans that exist both inside and outside its obfuscating structures of power.
Stringendo, Vanishing Mediators takes its title from the Italian word for “draw tight”, excavating the origins and originators of online and digital media as we know it and holding them to account for the corporatised hegemony at the core of an existing system of stark inequality. Drawing on Dullaart’s ongoing preoccupation with the original PhotoShop image of ‘Jennifer in Paradise‘, warped reproductions of said low-res screenshot use the same software’s current filters in ‘Jennifer in Photoshop’ (2014), hung grid-like across a wall papered with the image looming large and obscured via ‘guassian blur’. Other wall-length representations of the topless back of Adobe developer John Knoll‘s wife are distorted in a ‘liquify filter’ across varying brush sizes, while the anxious ambience of a playerless piano in ‘Feedback with Midi Piano’ (2014) ebbs under Dullaart’s updated ‘Terms of Service (TOS), Google 2014’ (2014) reciting its corrupted clauses: “we collect information to provide better services to all organisations”.
Garish and cheerily oppressive, the top floor acts as both altar and interrogation of the influence of the image, as another unanswered letter to Jennifer Knoll follows Dullaart’s 2013 one in Rhizome. It hangs unassumingly next the gallery exit as the artist creepily lists the names of Knoll’s children before praising her global impact as “a faint, blurry, pixelated focal point.” The ambivalent symbol of cast iron railings on the opposite wall melts into more ‘Jennifer’ wallpaper, while an official Olympics backpack hangs from said balcony of ‘Balconisation, London 2012’ (2014). It’s a reference to Dullaart’s recently published ‘Balconism’ manifesto, while the Stringendo exhibition plan adds: “Julian Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy”. With that one recalls the artist’s declaration, “every win fails eventually”. It’s no wonder the lightbox portrait, featuring a man and his dog and glimmering with the sillhouette after-effect of a PhotoShop ‘magic wand’ tool, is relegated to the downstairs. The 19 flags representing the “enemies of internet” (that is, the free one) –including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, UK –are in a room around the corner, in the dark and underneath what you see upstairs.
Back in the light and on the floor above hang private Dullaart holiday snaps, signed in gold by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. There are large-scale demonstration drawings by Macpaint and dropdown menu-creator Bill Atkinson, and an exhibition invitation to John Knoll himself, all become part of the engulfing fabric of an impenetrable upstairs space: “Hopefully your original image will find its way to a place where it can be accessed for prosperity”, writes Dullaart. Presumably the pun was intended. **
London’s Carroll/Fletcher is presenting A Group Exhibition of Artists’ Film, running January 16 to February 22.
Featuring videos by Aleksandra Domanović, Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, Mika Taanila and Michael Joaquin Grey, among others, the exhibition explores the fundamentals of film making through experimentation across technique, narrative and the historical and cultural context of its references. That’s why Domanović’s splicing of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall audio with Getty Images stock photos in ‘Anhedonia’ (2009) and Bourdy & Lorenz’s ‘To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation’ (2013) -along with its multi-layered references reaching across from Pauline Oliveros’ avant-garde composition to SCUM founder Valerie Solanas -are so relevant.
Swiss-Austrian-American duo UBERMORGEN will be presenting their first solo exhibition, u s e r u n f r i e n d l y, at London’s Carroll / Fletcher, running October 11 to November 16. Featuring work across installations, videos, websites, actions, pixellated prints and digital-oil paintings, it promises a “hyper-active, super-enhanced exploration of censorship, surveillance, torture, democracy, e-commerce, and newspeak”.
Keeping things topical will be two new installations ‘Do You Think That’s Funny? – The Edward Snowden Files’ (2013) and ‘CCTV – A Parallel Universe’ (2013), as well as a section of UBERMORGEN’s Net.Art works curated by Berlin artist Aram Bartholl and presentedacross an offline wireless router system, in a similar fashion as his recent OFFLINE ART: HARDCORE in Germany, to which the duo also contributed and is still running until October 13.
u s e r u n f r i e n d l y also comes accompanied by a publication including an essay by curator Magda Tyżlik-Carver and conversations between UBERMORGEN and Austrian quantum physicist Dr. Tobias Noebauer, as well as NSA intelligence leaker and fugitive Edward Snowden.
They’ll be representing artists Michael Joaquin Grey, Susanne Kühn, Eva & Franco Mattes, Thomson and Craighead, Eulalia Valldosera, John Wood & Paul Harrison and recent addition Michael Najjar at Booth A11 from September 16 to 18.