... in exhibition


06 Dec 2017 | 907 words | art exhibition review vr migration mexico united states

In retrospect the whole process of actually getting to experience Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s situated VR installation CARNE Y ARENA at the Fondazione Prada in Milano now looks like a privileged white man’s version of what the protagonists of the installation have gone trough: The almost overwhelming uncertainty if i would ever manage to get there (the result of overwhelmed web servers that could not keep up with the demand for the microscopic amount of tickets available), the realisation that a group only travels as fast as it’s weakest members (an object lesson taught by a group of Filipino women who boarded the flight to Milano with way too much carry on luggage causing the worst boarding mess that i ever experienced) and the ability of those whom you have entrusted with your fate to extract extra compensation (the taxi diver who needed to be bribed into accepting payment by credit card).

While CARNE Y ARENA is primarily described as a possibly genre-defining Virtual Reality experience, the actual VR element (as in the 3D environment projected through the headset) is probably the least interesting bit of it, even though the cinematography is stunning and the choreography of the actions unfolding around you is equally master-full.

Rather it is the use of the supporting sensory triggers that both makes and breaks the illusion created by the VR headset (the whole experience was probably helped by the fact that as a result of my hurried attempts to get there in time i was thirsty for the duration of the experience): The coldness in the holding cell crates a feeling of being out of control that primes you for the desert scene. The cold, rough desert sand and the unidentifiable scent immediately situate you in the desert. As long as you are “alone” in the desert (and later during the helicopter overpasses) the wind machines complete the illusion created by the VR headset.

Once the exhausted migrants appear the illusion starts getting strained. For me this had little to do with the the fact that they were clearly identifiable as rendered characters (as the Verge complains), or even the fact that you could walk into the characters (according the NYT review this seems to be a feature that i did not recognise as such) but rather the fact that i was unable to physically relate to them within the parameters of the simulation. As the group came under attack by the border patrol my urge was to get closer to the other protagonists and to somehow protect or comfort them. But my attempt to hold on to the foot of a frightened child broke the simulation as there was noting to touch and no-one i could comfort.

In the end the very limitations of the simulation amplify the message. Regardless how much i wanted to identify with the the harassed group of migrants, and as much as i experienced the sensory overload of being alone in the dark desert at the mercy of armed men, the limitations of the technology reminded me of my real status as a distant observer. That divergence between your desire to relate, fuelled by the state of the art manipulation of your senses and your inability to completely escape your situated-ness in the real world creates (or at least it created for me) a very profound understanding what it means to be the other (in this case one of the migrants).

Contrary to what i had expected it is not the technical perfection of the installation that constitutes the empathy machine, but the fact that you are reminded that you are indeed only “virtually present” that delivers the message. As confronting as the last scene, where the simulation finally acknowledges your presence and the border patrol officer approaches you shouting and with his assault rifle aimed at you, may be, it was the fact that i could simply leave that brought home the point that for the migrants this option does not exist.

Still, leaving the desert scene left me shell shocked and i spend a long time watching the video testimonials of the migrant protagonists in the decompression room that constitutes the last part of the experience. It is impossible to tell if these were so captivating because of the state i was in or because of the fact that i was alone with them or because of the accomplished videography and performance or because of all of these aspects combined.

In the end the most interesting question is how this way of story telling can ever scale in any meaningful way. The way it is set up in Milano (individual 15 minute slots) the total capacity is somewhere around 5000 visitors in half a year. There are currently 3 instances of CARNE Y ARENA (the other ones are im Mexico City and in Los Angeles) which seems utterly insufficient to reach anyone beyond a very determined part of the global cultural elites, who are likely the ones who are least challenged in their belief systems by the urgent social message encoded in this technological masterpiece. It is not me who needed the exposure to the desperate realities of migrants fighting for their dignity under the conditions of massive global disparities, rather it is someone my above mentioned taxi driver (who was not even aware of the fact that the Prada foundation is a Museum and not the seat of the eponymous luxury goods company).

1 plus 8 - the room is a map of the territory

07 Apr 2013 | 300 words | algorithms art exhibition review travel

Yesterday we saw 1+8 at the opulent Galata branch of SALT. 1+8 is a dynamic eight-screen video installation about Turkey and her eight neighbours based on the feature film of the same name directed by Cynthia Madansky and Angelika Brudniak. I usually do not have much patience for video installations but 1+8 managed to capture my attention for quite some time. If you are to believe the catalogue text this thanks to an the brilliance of a ‘custom made algorithmic computer program’ powering the display:

“The installation invites the audience to become immersed in the contemplation of life at the eight borders of Turkey. The multi-screen projection lends itself to experience simultaneity and inter-connection on a physical level. The choreography of video’s on the eight screens, is created dynamically with the help of a custom made algorithmic computer program allowing for a unique viewer experience, whereby the projections will never appear the same way twice.”

Not sure in how far the algorithm contributed to my enjoyment here. Being a bit obsessed about maps i was much more delighted by the way the room (a large rectangle) was used as a map of the territory, with the videos projected on those parts of the wall that correspond with the actual borders between Turkey and its eight1 neighbours (this of course only works with a country like turkey which is an even bigger rectangle):

turkey in a box

Also, it appears that the border regions between Turkey and its six Asian neighbours are really fascinating/beautifull which makes me want to travel there at some point in the future

  1. One of the things learned here is that the Turkish consider the Autonomus Repubic of Nakhchivan a neghbouring country (which – it should be noted – has the tiniest possible border with Turkey). ↩︎ ↩︎

More ruralism and less urbanism

23 Nov 2009 | 73 words | art exhibition photos urbanism

Spend yesterday afternoon at the paris photo exhibition/fair in the über-horrible carrousel du louvre in Paris. The whole thing did not really live up to the hype (and the long queues) but fortunately there was one photo that made it worth having ventured into the belly of the cultural-industrial beast:

‘un poco de historia, la havanna, mayo 1971’ by José A. Figueora.

Bonus: services provided by Dr. Paul of Sese Island, East Afirica

Parallel infrastructures

Over the last year or so Sara (together with Suzanne Valkenburg and Eefje Blankevoort) has explored the world of vacation parks in the Netherlands. Many of these parks that had originally been designed for dutch families to spend their summer vacations have – over the years – attracted new types of temporary and permanent residents: Kenyan athletes competing for price money in dutch running events, Afghani refugees, African agriculture students, Dutch drop outs and polish contract workers and their families. Slowly these vacation parks have morphed into an almost invisible buffer zone, assigned to those people that mainstream society attempts to keep out of sight.

The website www.beloofdeland.org (‘het beloofde land’ (‘the promised land’) is the name of one of these parks) documents 5 of these vacation parks through video, text and photo’s, contrasting their current status with archival material from times when these places where the unchallenged territory of families on vacation. Installations based on this online documentary can be seen in the context of the Made in Arnhem exhibition (from 12 september until 25 october), in the Open Air Museum Arnhem (inside a 1950s vacation house by dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld – from 13 september until October 27th) and in De Verdieping in Amsterdam (from 26 september – October 4th).

Yellow suzuki swifts issued to polish temporary workers by their temp-working agency ‘Exotic Green‘ in front of vacation homes in Patersven/Zundert (foto: Suzanne Valkenburg).

Playstation controllers inspired by russian avant-garde art

16 Feb 2009 | 124 words | exhibition art netherlands museum technology

Went to visit the Kröller Müller Museum deep inside the Dutch country side (if that exists) last Sunday. Apart form a walk in the rain through the splendid sculpture garden (an absolute must-visit) we had a short (too little time, must come back in the summer) walk through the permanent collection. One of the works that i really liked was this relief (or however you call this) by the russian avant-garde art group UNOVIS:

UNOVIS - Suprematistisch reliëf

UNOVIS (1921) Suprematistisch reliëf

Apart from the beauty of the work as such i also find it quite intriguing that the design team at sony has apparently been inspired by this work when they came up with the symbols on the buttons of the playstation controllers.

Tantalum Memorial / Pandoras Index

27 Aug 2008 | 347 words | art exhibition review copyright technology memories

For some reason i never managed to write about manifesta7 after having visited 3 of the 4 locations on the opening weekend back in mid july. not sure what to say of the overall exhibition but it included a number of really interesting and beautiful artworks. my favorite among them was Tantalum Memorial – Residue, by Graham Harwood together with Richard Wright and Matsuko Yokokoji. Is a memorial/intstallation to the Congolese people who have died as a result of the coltan wars. Regine over at we make money not art has posted a short description of the installation:

This installation is constructed out of an old electro-mechanical 1938 Strowger telephone exchange, discovered amongst the remains of the Alumix factory. Seen from afar it looked like it does belong to the ex-factory. An old telephone switch forgotten for decades. The switches are reanimated by tracking the phone calls from Telephone Trottoire – a social telephony network designed by the artists in collaboration with the Congolese radio program Nostalgie Ya Mboka in London. The TT network calls Congolese listeners, plays them a phone message and invites them to record a comment and pass it on to a friend by entering their phone number. This builds on the traditional Congolese practice of “radio trottoire” or “pavement radio”, the passing around of news and gossip on street corners in order to avoid state censorship.

More pictures on my flickr page.

The same location (the ex-Alumix factory in Bolzano) also hosted the first ever installation by my good friend Lawrence Liang: Pandoras Index consists of a filing cabinet filled with index cards referring to various aspects of the debates around, cultural production, intellectual property and piracy. Having known Lawrence for years some of the drawers appeared to me as elaborate attempts to replicate parts of reasoning (or parts of his brain) in a series of index cards. probably only makes sense if you know Lawrence or if you are really familiar with the topics he addresses, but i liked it quite a lot (again, more pictures are available on my flickr page):


25 Mar 2008 | 220 words | art museum CFL exhibition

Although i have a well documented faible for CFLs and i maintain a growing collection of CFL pictures in one of my flickr sets, all the photos i have taken so far originate from the middle east (the CFLs usually found in the west are pretty uninspiring). Fortunately a young entrepreneur (who is otherwise in the fairly stupid business of selling old style telephone handsets for mobile phones) has come to the rescue and created the PLUMEN, a low-energy light bulb prototype with a twist:

Some people find them unpleasant, but low-energy lightbulbs are a necessary innovation. Their presence in our lives explain the PLUMEN’s designers, “should be seen as an advantage to be celebrated by drawing, sculpturing, or scrawling in the air with light. The bulbs should not be viewed as an afterthought but instead as a centerpiece. then people might begin to buy these bulbs through genuine desire rather than mere moral obligation.”

Not sure if i buy this tear-jerk bullshit about genuine desire to buy a lightbulb, but at least this prototype has managed to get into the New York MOMA where the PLUMEN is currently on display at the ‘Design And The Elastic Mind‘ exhibition (extremely annoying flash site, that takes forever to load!).

Personally i think that cheap chinese flower shaped CFLs look much better

Collateral knowledge...

05 Sep 2007 | 247 words | amsterdam exhibition art travel photos

… used to be the subtitle of this blog for a while (in fact it still is, but i have not really found a place in the layout where i could put the subtitle). in the meanwhile (which is the title of the blog) collateral knowledge has teamed up with identity & aesthetics and got promoted to be the title of the second el-hema koopavond (evening shopping event) at mediamatic in Amsterdam on the 13th of September:

According to the programme i will present my idea of ‘collateral knowledge’ by ways of a nice old-fashioned slideshow (with a twist) of my travels through Dubai, Lebanon, Amman, and Damascus. Also presenting is my dear friend Tarek Atoui who will close the evening by a performance dedicated to the populations who have been suffering from the latest political and military events striking Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq (Tarek sounds a bit like a diplomat these days!). The evening will be opend by Mounira Al Solh who – again according to the programme – will present her artistic practice, wherein she addresses issues of identity and aesthetics by weaving together matters related to Lebanese politics, diaspora, immigration, and the condition of the art world.

Should be a splendid evening, so if you are in Amsterdam make sure to drop by. The whole thing will start at 2030h and entrance seems to be free (i guess they expect you to buy t-shirts like crazy). Many thanks to Nat for pulling this together.


26 Aug 2007 | 276 words | art amsterdam exhibition fashion netherlands photos

This weekend the el hema الهيما project by mediamatic finally opend. The idea behind it is to create an arabic identity for the HEMA store chain (brand) which is about as Dutch as it can get.

The project had gotten quite a bit of media attention as HEMA had been so stupid to threaten to sue mediamatic for trademark infringement some 4 weeks back (which is more of less the best free publicity you can get). The whole thing is really well executed (much respect to the whole team that worked on it over the last two months). They did not sell anything on the opening night on friday (much to everybody’s dismay) and when they finally started selling the merchandise they almost got run over by hordes of dutch people who acted as if t-shirts (and condoms, chocolate, towels and underwear) with arabic script are something that that never existed before:

Just try to image the opposite scenario: Arabs going crazy over t-shirts with latin script on it (hint: does not really happen unless you are taling about expensive brand names). today when i passed by mediamatic there was a line stretching almost 100m outside of the shop. seemed like they were selling the first european iphones or something.

While the t-shirts are really nice (although the my favorite one does not even have text on it) my favorite part of the whole installation is the little arrow on the celing in one of the corners that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca (‘qibla’ / قِـبْـلَـة‬). Makes me almost want to have one for my flat….

More pictures (from the fashion show) here

Spectacular city...

Is the title of a photo exhibition at the Netherlands Institute of Architecture in Rotterdam (on show till the 7th of january 2007). the exhibition consists of about a 100 mostly large scale large-scale reproductions of – well – spectacular urban landscapes, exceptional buildings and all kinds of eerie views. Many of the pictures contain very little traces of human live (which has a strange calming effect on me). One notable exception is São Paulo, Sé by Andreas Gursky:

On display this picture is something like 3 x 2 meters and which puts you face to face with the waiting subway passengers the picture perfectly captures the monstrosity of the Se subway station in central São Paulo. Looks like he did digitally add a a level or two (see my own impressions and pictures here).

The rest of the exhibition is pretty amazing as well, especially the ministry of transportation building in Tiblisi (via we-make-money-not-art, which made me aware of the exhibition in the first place. thanks Regine!).

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: