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Wednesday 25th November 2015Keep the Berlin Wall Standing!

Now before you do a double take, nobody is suggesting that the decades-gone dividing wall between East and West Germany that ran straight through the heart of Berlin should be re-established. The Fall of the Wall was one of the most iconic moments in the final moments of the Cold War, and the first photographs of that day are equally iconic images that live forever in the minds of everyone who knew just how much it meant.

At this point, the majority of the wall is long-gone, but sections of it have been preserved as a monument to the mistakes of past years and past regimes. While it was standing, it was such a hated symbol of oppression and division that it naturally aroused both artistic and intellectual rage - in other words, it was completely covered in graffiti. Ranging from the purely angry to the politically motivated to the aesthetic attempts to create beauty from the tragically oppressive. Over the years since the destruction of the wall, tourists and visitors to the historic site have taken to adding their own marks to what little of the wall remains.

In fact, the site has become so popular that it draws an estimated 3 million tourists every year, and is probably the most popular site for smartphone selfies in the entire city. That much traffic comes with its own inherent risks - primarily vandalism, which is unsurprising in an unprotected open air environment - especially for something so completely covered in graffiti. The more troubling and damaging aspect is that some visitors seem to feel that they are entitled to take a small piece of the wall home with them, and that obviously creates some problems for those who are tasked with maintaining the East Side Gallery, as it is known.

Sascha Langenbach, spokesman for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the district of Berlin that contains the gallery section, has grown frustrated with the audacity of tourists. “People come and pick and scratch at it with everything from keys to penknives, hoping to take a piece home with them. Last week we caught a Japanese girl in the act of spraying a complete panel in silver and red paint. She had brought a whole crate of spray paint with her."

Suddenly, the proposed idea of fencing in one of the most famous walls in Europe no longer seems completely insane. Hopefully, efforts to preserve what remains of the wall will succeed, leaving a cautionary tale for tomorrow's generations.

Posted on November 25th 2015 on 05:05am

Friday 20th November 2015The Newest Art Movement You've Never Heard Of

Art movements are a difficult thing to pin down. When they're new and exciting, almost nobody has ever heard of them, but that's also when they tend to be the most disruptive. That's disruptive in the sense of 'challenging the status quo' rather than something negative, in the sense that a disruptive technology succeeds by solving a problem more effectively than the existing methods do. So it's always an interesting thing to see an art movement taking shape, to watch it's progress from nascent idea to full-fledged movement - for, as is more often the case, they tend to wind up slinking back to the art school dorm room never to see the light of day again.

This latest emerging movement is known as Excessivism, and it is truly a millennial movement in all senses of the word. Formally the brainchild of contemporary American artist Kaloust Guedel, it styles itself a commentary on the rampant excesses of commercialism and materialism that permeates American culture, which is admittedly not exactly a new idea. It has a manifesto, as any good art movement would, as well as a slew of artists who are already working in the style.

Easily the most recognizable name on the list is Ai Weiwei, it's not immediately apparent if he has agreed to be part of this movement or if he's even aware of its existence. It would certainly be a great help to the aesthetic credibility of the movement, but at the same time it's somehow a bit damaging to include an established artist in a new movement they didn't found.

The manifesto starts out in a typically dense fashion: "Excessive use of resources in magnified state, by which one expresses: by means of two, or three dimensional visual-creations, written, or pronounce words, or in any other manner. As a reflection, examination, or investigation of the capitalist system, exempt of aesthetical, legal, commercial, ethical, or moral considerations."

Whether or not it's intended ironically or not, the density of the language is excessive in and of itself. The pieces, however, vary widely in terms of their general aesthetic appeal. Some are quite beautiful in their own way, and some are merely messy to the point of repulsiveness. To read the full manifesto and see the full list of artists who are working in the style, be sure to check out the website at 

Posted on November 20th 2015 on 03:50am

Wednesday 18th November 2015Art for the Blind

3D printing is everywhere in the art world lately, from generating new sculptural techniques to enabling entirely new forms of abstract expressionism, but thanks to a new initiative it's breaking even more new ground. If you've been living under a rock lately, 3D printing is the latest wave of homebrew fabrication technology that allows users to generate 3D models using special software and a printer that uses plastic and resin compounds instead of ink. It gradually builds up the surface layer by layer, allowing for an incredible amount of detail in its constructions. The technology has been around for a few years now, and although it still has to break its way into the mainstream, it's gaining a lot of buzz as the machinery becomes more and more affordable. As the userbase grows, so do the number of artists using it in their work, and new applications are being developed every day.

The latest buzz surrounds a project named 3DPhotoWorks with an ambitious goal: to bring visual art to the blind. In the past the idea may have seemed like a tastelessly cruel joke, but thanks to 3D printing technology, 3DPhotoWorks has been captivating the blind with 3D printings of famous paintings and other traditionally two dimensional work. As it says on their website, "3DPhotoWorks has devoted 7 years to developing a process that allows Blind people to “see” art and photography. Our goal is to make the world’s greatest art and greatest photography available to this deserving audience at every museum, every science center and every cultural institution, first in this country, and then beyond." They're referring to the United States, but as the buzz grows, expect to see more and more museums and galleries around the world show and interest in the work.

Just recently there was an exhibition in Seattle, Washington, put on courtesy of the National Federation for the Blind of Washington, which featured 3D models of The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent Van Gogh, and a 3D printed map of Washington state. Interestingly enough, the map was just as popular as the other two items despite its more prosaic nature, due to the fact that topography is more of a notional concept to the blind. Actually being able to feel a map and all the spatial relationships it contains is just as (if not more) interesting as some of the greatest works of art!

Posted on November 18th 2015 on 09:44pm

Friday 13th November 2015Shazam the Art World

Smartphones are here to save us from ignorance. Not just so that you can win that argument at the pub about how large salmon can grow, but for more seriously intellectual queries as well. Music lovers frustrated by overhearing a song but not knowing it have long relied on the popular application 'Shazam' (among others) which uses the smartphone microphone to 'listen' to the music being played and match it against a database, providing artist and track information alongside a handy purchase link. At long last the visual art world will be entering the same modern age thanks to a new application known as 'Artbit'.

The brainchild of an Israeli app development company of the same name, Artbit hopes to revolutionize the way people interact with art by taking advantage of something that is known as 'augmented reality'. Think along the lines of the audio recordings you can get for major museum tours, but completely based on your smartphone and being constantly updated. Information from the real world is analyzed and augmented with an off-site database of additional information. In the case of Artbit, users simply snap a photo of the piece in question using the camera in their mobile phone, and Artbit takes the photo and matches it against a database of artwork.

Ofer Atir, the CEO of Artbit, explained his hopes and dreams for the app to Haaretz: “I believe people want to be consumers of art, but that it seems like a scary, inaccessible world to them. We want to take the reasonable person and tell him that art is an amazing thing. We also want to connect those who haven’t got a clue about art but who up to now haven’t felt comfortable asking so they don’t appear ignorant. Instead of asking who painted something, he takes a photograph of it and the app provides a layered reality for it. The database of art is due to fill out with the help of users who take photos and ask for explanations about it, which the company’s staff will locate and provide.”

That last point is one of the most crucial, however. Any augmented reality app is only as good as the database it draws on, so adoption might be a bit slower than he hopes. The addition of a Wikipedia-style database that other users can add to should dramatically speed up the rate at which the apps useful increases, but early adoption is always crucial for the success of these types of apps. Here's hoping they make a go of it, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a stunning piece of work and not being able to learn more about it!

Posted on November 13th 2015 on 08:11pm
Labels: app, art, smartphone

Wednesday 11th November 2015Artist Spotlight: Jon Rafman

Virtual worlds are everywhere these days. Well, technically speaking, they're nowhere in real space as they're virtual, but the impact they have on our real lives is anything but virtual. From Street View to Second Life to Facebook, virtual worlds shape our social interactions and real world decision-making on a daily basis. While they masquerade as games or tools, the impact they have on our perceptions of both the world and ourselves are at the same time both staggering and yet often opaque to us in daily life. That is the juxtaposition that Canadian-born artist Jon Rafman explores in his work, which has hung in some of the most prestigious galleries, including London's Saatchi Gallery.

The exhibit he is probably best known for is an unexpectedly engaging yet slightly controversial one, entitled 'The Nine Eyes of Google Street View', which also happens to be the one that was featured at the Saatchi Gallery. An exploration of the world through the eyes of Google Street View, it was a remarkable exhibit that pushed some of the boundaries of our own perceptions of art by using "found photography". For those of you who are unaware, Google Street View is a feature of their popular Maps software that allows users to traverse a virtual version of the world. This was made possible thanks to an astonishingly ambitious mapping project, wherein a number of cars with 9 cameras mounted on their roofs traversed every single street in most major cities in the West (this also provided the name for the exhibition).

"The work is connected to the history of street photography but also to the 20th-century ready-made movement. So leaving those artefacts in the image is extremely important. In the bottom-left corner of each picture is a link that says, 'Report a problem'. Maybe in the middle ages you passed somebody in trouble on the road and were confronted with the moral dilemma of whether to help them. Then came a time when you could call the police. Now we've reached the point where it's a hyperlink. That represents just how alienated we've become from reality," Rafman explains.

Fortunately for Rafman in this all too litigious world, Google has a standing policy of not legally pursuing anyone who uses their photographs for artistic purposes. To see more of his work, visit his website at .

Posted on November 11th 2015 on 08:17pm

Wednesday 04th November 2015Copyrights and Art

Copyright is one of the stickiest parts of the creative arts. It causes more problems and lawsuits than anything else, and with good reason. Nothing is more frustrating that pouring your heart and soul into a piece only to have someone show up out of the blue and steal the whole thing, lock stock and barrel. Think about Richard Price's use of others Instagram photos to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, for just one example. With that in mind, copyright is one of the most valuable things we own, but like many legal powers, it can be both a blessing and a curse.

In a rather shockingly ironic display of legal zealousness, the estate of George Orwell, world-famous author of the novel 1984 (among many others) has attempted to assert a copyright claim over the number '1984'. Stop and let that sink in for a second. The irony is palpable, especially when you consider that the supposed infraction was a t-shirt design that bore the slogan '1984 is already here'. The claim is that this is a quote from the book, but clearly it is not. "This is blatant abuse of the copyright system and more off it’s a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control," said Josh Hadley, the creator of the shirts and the defendant named in the lawsuit.

The implications are huge, of course. While this particular case is in regards to a string of characters from a novel, if a precedent was established that this kind of usage constitutes infringement, the entire art world could be affected. Imagine that you're working on an abstract painting, and you're using a palette of monochromatic reds. You manage to mix up a bright red that you absolutely love, and use it throughout the piece, only to find out later that you've managed to reproduce the famous red from the world's most iconic soft drink. Suddenly, you can't sell prints of the piece anymore because it violates their copyright on that particular colour!

This is an extreme example, of course, but it still highlights the potential dangers of an overzealous copyright protection system. It should be used to protect real abuses of copyrighted material, not simply those who can afford an incredible number of lawyers and their fees.

Posted on November 04th 2015 on 11:10pm
Labels: 1984, art, copyright

Monday 02nd November 2015Bacterial Art

We seem to have something of a fascination with unconventional media in the art world. Whether it's because we're driven by a conceptual desire for reimagining the way we see art or simply because we like to be unconventional for its own sake is up for debate, as many artists are rebels and rabble-rousers from day one (thankfully!). As it turns out, artists aren't the only ones with this drive.

The relationship between science and art has always been somewhat tense, with active proponents of both the differences and the similarities between the two, but recently scientists held a first of its kind art contest that around some curiosity throughout the art world. Dubbed somewhat unimaginatively the 'Agar Art Project', it featured projects that were entirely created with bacteria to create their forms.

The contest itself was named after the growth medium used to culture the bacteria. Agar is a clear, glutinous substance that provides all the nutrients that the bacteria need to grow. Petri dishes are filled with the stuff, and various bacterial cultures are introduced and allowed to grow and propagate. The control of exactly where they grow varies, but given the typical growth patterns of each species, it's possible to create some rather amazing imagery. To cap it all, the entire thing is then sealed in resin to preserve it from any kind of degradation.

"All the scientists that I work with, all agree that there is a sense of aesthetics in our work and how we present our work. It is difficult to do and appreciate without art," said Mehmet Berkmen of New England Biolabs, a research firm located in the United States. He should know, considering that his collaborative piece with artist Maria Penil entitled 'Neurons' won first prize in the competition as voted by a panel of judges, and another of their collaborative entries won the people's choice section of the contest by receiving the highest number of 'Likes' and shares on Facebook.

While they do a huge amount to popularize science, many in the art community were quick to point out that it wasn't really "art" in the high-brow, high-minded sense of the word, but rather some pretty images. Such arguments tend to come off as snobby and downright rude, but there is something to what they say. Yes, it's an interesting medium to work in, and yes it has some social value if it causes people to re-examine their perceptions of science, but at the end of the day its conceptual value (and some would say its aesthetic value) is somewhat thin.

Posted on November 02nd 2015 on 07:22pm
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