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Friday 29th April 2016Artist Spotlight: Memo Akten

For our Artist Spotlight this week, we're going to change things up a bit and look at an artist who works in decidedly non-traditional media. Working in digital media - it's probably not still fair to call it 'new media' any more, since it's been around for quite a while by now - is one of the most exciting areas of the art world. Much of the cutting edge of art is about pushing boundaries, and few things do that better than the work of Memo Akten.

Akten was born in Istanbul, Turkey, but moved to London to attend the Goldsmith University where he is a practicing fine artist, and a PhD candidate - in artificial intelligence research. As such, much of his work is related to technology and interactive installations, and he's already amassed a long list of projects and press accolades.

One of his latest pieces of work was actually discussed in our recent article about Google's Deep Dream neural network. As part of an exhibit dedicated to showcasing the possibilities of the artificial intelligence system, Akten was commissioned to create various works, one of which titled the post then and has been included again here, titled GCHQ after the secretive signals intelligence and national security office.

For those of you who missed the discussion on Deep Dream, Akten has a few brief words about how it works.

“It might look like Deep Dream is generating say, sparrow’s faces in clouds, but what it is actually doing is generating patterned noise, which our brains try to find meaning in.” Akten. “It creates just enough of a sparrow’s head in a cloud, so that our brains find the rest. Visually, our minds and Deep Dream are doing exactly the same thing. It’s such a perfect mirror. I love that conceptual aspect.”

Akten's work isn't just limited to artificial intelligence, and has begun to break through many of the traditional boundaries that have, until recently, delineated various forms of digital media and how they can be integrated and co-opted for use in artwork. Just recently he collaborated on a dance/tech hybrid performance/installation piece titled Pattern Recognition, which was on display at Central St Martins in King's Cross in April for a very limited engagement.

“This is a new landscape. Working with these technologies is very much like cinema in the 20th century when people were just discovering the film camera, what worked and what didn’t,” he said in an interview with the Guardian.

Here's hoping that he keeps pushing the boundaries and amazing us with his work!

Posted on April 29th 2016 on 05:09pm
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Wednesday 27th April 2016Nazi Art Stash Finally Going On Display

Hildebrand GurlittWhether or not you read about it here, you may remember the story from a year or so ago about a huge stash of paintings that were discovered in Germany. The owner of the property where they were found, Cornelius Gurlitt, was the son of now-deceased art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt who was active during the Second World War.

The collection contained a huge number of pieces which were looted by the Nazis during this horrific time, including works by the European master painters Renoir, Picasso and Monet, among many others.

Once the pieces were discovered, there was a huge conflict about their provenance and Gurlitt refused to cooperate with authorities, which lead to the seizure of the entire collection. Some may have been rightfully his, but many pieces were suspected of being looted from Jewish owners, either taken by force or "sold" for a fraction of their real value.

After Gurlitt eventually agreed to cooperate to discover the true provenance of the works in 2014, he died suddenly a month later and ostensibly left the entire collection of work to the Bern Fine Arts Museum. They eventually reached an agreement with German authorities to accept the works that were clearly the rightful property of Gurlitt, and they will be going on display shortly.

The other works that have dubious or contested ownership will be investigated by German authorities as they try to determine the rightful owners of the works. In the meantime, they will be available on display as part of an exhibit in Bonn.

The two museums issued a joint statement about the exhibit:
“The exhibitions at the Art and Exhibition Hall in Bonn and at the Fine Arts Musuem in Bern are planned for winter 2016/17 and their content will be coordinated.

“The exhibition at the Art and Exhibition Hall in Bonn will deal more specifically with the history of the collection, and it is hoped it will contribute to further investigation of the provenance of the works.

“It will also focus on the fates of persecuted art collectors and their collections.”

That last part seems a bit dubious, although it turns out that only 5 of the works in Gurlitt's collection have proven to be looted - so far. Two of those have since been returned to their rightful owners.
 

Posted on April 27th 2016 on 04:23pm
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Friday 22nd April 2016Artist Spotlight: Alex Timmermans

April seems to have been a fairly surreal month in general, whether due to the completely schizophrenic weather patterns or just the way April Fool's kicked things off this year. With that spirit in mind, this week on Artist Spotlight we're going to look at some equally surreal photography by Alex Timmermans.

Timmermans is an interesting person both in terms of his work and his process, which isn't like that of other photographers. Instead of taking advantage of the advances in digital photography and post production that generally make a photographer's life easier, he's decided to go the other direction. He chooses to work with some of the most antiquated and recondite photographic processes, and produces some hauntingly surreal pieces with it.

He uses a process first developed by Frederick Scott Archer known as collodion wet plate photography, and it's incredibly time consuming and difficult to manage. It's an interesting departure from the photographic process that many of us have become familiar with. When shooting digitally, it's typically easier to shoot a thousand frames and pick through them to find the best one instead of taking the time to get it right on the first try.

As he explains on his website:
"I always have been fascinated by photography.
But with the introduction of the digital camera it all became too easy, too predictable …to me.
So I forced myself to go back to the roots of real analog photography.
Not just by making the photograph itself, but by controlling the entire photographic process.

This brought me back to the middle of the 19th century, to the amazing Collodion wet plate process.
And every single day I feel challenged to refine and improve myself."

The results of his efforts are haunting, enchanting and surreal, and worth a look. While you might be interested in his full body of work, the pieces that truly captured our attention were the 'Story Telling' series that are located on his website, which can be found at www.alextimmermans.com . His portraiture is also quite appealing, although the inherent difficulties in the photographic processes he use don't always lend themselves to the same degree of success as they do on the Story Telling side. Regardless, be sure to take a look!

Posted on April 22nd 2016 on 04:10pm
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Wednesday 20th April 2016Massive Cairo Mural

Over the last few years, one of the most interesting types of visual trickery to emerge has become almost a fixture in the public art world. The idea is that from a particular location, a three dimensional illusion is constructed that exists only when the viewer is standing in that one spot. A single step away to either side breaks the perspective and the illusion is gone, leaving only a strange collection of disconnected shapes that don't seem to form anything at all.

Street art is many things, but it is rarely grandiose in scope. The nature of the social climate in which it's painted - that is to say, secretly, illegally, and usually in the dead of night - makes it difficult if not impossible to work on a scale larger than a single wall canvas. This massive mural, located in Cairo, is a perfect example of how the two techniques can be blended together to create something truly staggering.

The brainchild of a French-Tunisian street artist who goes by the name eL Seed, the piece is actually composed of a staggering number of individual pieces that, when taken singly, amount to virtually nothing. Standing atop a nearby hill, however, the pieces click together into a giant piece of so-called 'calligraffiti' in Arabic, which says: "If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes."

Due to the extremely repressive government currently in power in Egypt, the development and construction of the piece had to be completed in total secrecy from the government. Current Egyptian law prohibits public artist expression, as it is no doubt likely to inflame a populace that is already in a state of near-constant turmoil after the Arab Spring uprising that started in Egypt several years ago.

Fortunately for us, eL Seed and his collaborators documented the entire process, from planning to execution to the final reveal. While the piece was kept secret from the powers that be, the rest of those involved were aware of the intentions. "We got the blessing of the priest," he says. "He gave us permission and everyone in the neighborhood knew about it."

The piece is ambitious, daring, and unique among street art, and it's an incredible example of what can be accomplished under even the most difficult conditions. Sometimes out of the worst situations, the most amazing creations emerge.

Posted on April 20th 2016 on 02:02am
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Friday 15th April 2016Artist Spotlight: Jill Pelto

While it's hard to make blanket statements about art, it's fairly safe to say that art is always about constructing meaning in the mind of your viewers. Whether it's a cheeky visual pun or a serious reflection on the state of society and culture, the goal is to create an impact. Few things are more serious threats to the state of the world today than climate change, which is going to have serious and wideranging impacts in every part of the world, but Maine artist Jill Pelto has made it her mission to showcase the dangers through art.

As we've discussed in the past, art and science often have something of an adversarial relationship, but in Pelto's case, she's managed to bridge the gap by her more conventional career as an environmental scientist. She recently graduated from the University of Maine with a dual major in studio art and Earth science, and she brings her dual passions into the work she creates. Her data is all sourced from unimpeachable governmental sources such as the NOAA and NASA, as well as published papers from peer-reviewed climate science journals.

Her work is an intriguing combination of traditional media and infographics, as they are all directly correlative to climate-related data. The resulting series she has titled 'Geoglacial Artworks', and it is art with a very real scientific message. Each piece is a blend of actual graphable data that has been filled in with related visual imagery.

"I think that art is something that people universally enjoy and feel an emotional response to," she said in a recent interview with Smithsonian Magazine. "People across so many disciplines and backgrounds look at and appreciate it, and so in that sense art is a good universal language. My target audience is in many ways people who aren't going to be informed about important topics, especially scientific ones."

Many artists are very socially aware, but at the same time it's all too easy to lose ourselves in the art world and begin to ignore the connection between the work we do and the world we're intending to impact. Pelto's work neatly and appealingly bridges this divide, and hopefully she'll be able to succeed in raising awareness about the seriousness of the climate change situation.
 
 

Posted on April 15th 2016 on 01:54am
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Wednesday 13th April 2016Life Imitates Art After All

It's one of the oldest cliches in the art world, a hoary old chestnut passed down from generation to generation: "Art imitates life, and life imitates art". While it's not exactly clear who originally uttered these pithy words, the most notable figure who has used them is probably Oscar Wilde, who said that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life" in his essay The Decaying of Lying, published in 1889.

Regardless of where it came about, it was brought home in a hilariously postmodern way earlier this year by a hapless driver and a graffiti artist. For those of you over the age of 50 (or those of you who are younger but were raised by cartoon aficionados), you'll no doubt remember the Loony Toons trope that afflicted poor Wile E. Coyote, who frequently found himself chasing the clever and presumably delicious Roadrunner.

Unfortunately, Roadrunner proved to be a clever adversary and a skilled artist, who regularly painted fake tunnels on the sides of canyon walls during his attempts to escape being made into lunch. The unfortunate coyote found himself running spang into a rock wall and getting flattened, despite the fact that Roadrunner could occasionally make use of the self-same tunnels.

While it remains to be seen if the graffiti artist who painted a false tunnel beside the road was able to use his own tunnel to escape the scene, a poor driver managed to mistake the painted tunnel for a real one and crashed his car full tilt into the pseudo-tunnel painted on the wall.

To add insult to injury, it later transpired that there was in fact a large cartoon Roadrunner painted right beside the fake tunnel, but that apparently wasn't enough to top off the driver. The tunnel wasn't painted in a particularly photorealistic style, as one might guess from the fact that it was done in spraypaint, but it was enough to send this car to the shop.

There's no word on the driver, but hopefully they survived without any harm and learned a valuable lesson about the value of paying proper care and attention to the road while driving! Not to mention everything they learned about how life really can imitate art after all, as Wilde long ago surmised.
 

Posted on April 13th 2016 on 01:48am
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Friday 08th April 2016Secret Animation Software Made Free

There may be those among you who feel that animation cannot be art. You may regard yourselves as purists, and feel morally and aesthetically superior. Hopefully, you will enjoy that - over there, in the corner, where you won't bother anyone else. For the rest of you who have open minds and are willing to explore the possibilities of a medium, you may be extremely interested to know that one of the most famous pieces of (secret!) animation software has just been released to the public.

For free.

The software, which has been used to create the hit comedy series Futurama as well as almost all of the anime hits produced by Studio Ghibli such as Princess Mononoke, Ponyo and Howl's Moving Castle, is somewhat unfortunately named 'Toonz'. It has been released as an open source package, which means that the code for the entire piece of software is visible and editable by anyone with the skills to do so, and will be entirely free forever.

The new free version is named OpenToonz, displaying the open source community's unfortunate lack of nomenclature creativity, despite their incredible technical creativity. The version is subtitled the 'Ghibli Edition', because of the numerous improvements and adjustments that were made by the Studio Ghibli animators and programmers over the years since they purchased the original software from Italian developers Digital Video.

According to Claudio Mattei, “This deal will be also the starting point of a new exciting plan to endorse the open source business model, by supporting training and customizing Toonz for the old and new users.” Digital Video, the original developers, hope to make money off the need for training, support and installation services in a market that will develop thanks to the increasingly widespread adoption of the software worldwide.

Hopefully, this is exciting news for any of you who are interested in motion graphics, film and animation! Despite the move to the internet, animation and video is hotter than ever and this software combined with new media delivery platforms like YouTube and Vimeo offer a whole new method for artists and animators to get their work in front of the general public. OpenToonz should revolutionize the whole animation world, and here's hoping that it inspires you to create something truly beautiful!

Posted on April 08th 2016 on 01:45am
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Wednesday 06th April 2016Graffiti Miscommunique

Life and work is always difficult for the graffiti artist. Sneaking around in the dead of night isn't always the best environment for the creation of a masterpiece, but there's little doubt that on some level, at least, that's part of the allure that draws them to the style in the first place. Sticking it to the man, getting one back for the little guy, and lampooning the fat cats etc.

It must make it doubly difficult to be commissioned by a town to provide a piece of artwork, as was recently done in Rheims, France, by one of France's leading graffiti artists, Christian Guemy, who goes by the alias C215.

It must be triply difficult to then suddenly find yourself a victim of French bureaucracy, which rivals only that of England (and possibly the Los Angeles Municipal Court) for sheer bloody-mindedness. The expression 'the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing' isn't quite so much accurate in this situation, because it seems more likely that each hand didn't know that there even was a second hand to be considered.

Almost immediately after the duly commissioned piece was completed by C215 to the general appreciation and acclaim of the citizens and city officials of Rheims, the city's anti-graffiti squad promptly came along and scrubbed it off the wall where it had been painted. This wasn't a requested piece of removal, they simply took it upon themselves to remove it in the normal course of their duties, because nobody had thought to tell them that it was officially sanctioned and should be left alone.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Guemy has no doubt dealt with this sort of thing regularly before he went mainstream and began taking commissions, and thus was rather sanguine about the whole thing. Fortunately, the town hall has apologized, and C215 will no doubt be back in Rheims to repair the hideous damage done by the city's anti-graffiti task force.

This time, the arts and culture department will be informing the cleanup crews about the new works beforehand, to prevent any ridiculous graffiti removal projects from moving forwards.
 

Posted on April 06th 2016 on 01:43am
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Friday 01st April 2016Happy April!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, another April has arrived at long last, and in honour of our favourite spring month, we've decided to do a short roundup of various art news stories that have come across our desk this morning.

First off, we have to report the incredibly unlikely tale of Banksy, everyone's favourite (or perhaps lately, increasingly less so) street artist. After a career that has thrived upon the anonymity that is typical of the graffiti artist, fuelling endless speculation, we have at long last discovered the identity of the artist formerly known as Banksy. Many fans had theories about Banksy's true identity, but we're quite certainly that none of them was even close to the truth, which as they say is always stranger than fiction.

Banksy was finally outed today, and completely by accident. After a lengthy rigmarole involving a supposedly extinct gas line, a hapless telephone repair company and an embittered local town council, a small garage was set on fire in the rural hamlet of Bixby-Hamptonsworth. After fire crews doused the blaze, a number of stencils and spray paint cans were discovered in the smouldering wreckage, including a stencil that was used to create the infamous 'Bomb Girl' piece. The owner of the shed was later revealed to be Mrs. Georgina Helly Masonfield, 63, who has since shared her plans for the latest iteration of Dismaland.

In other news today, Google's famous Deep Dream neural network has begun behaving extremely oddly. After being opened to the internet for the last year and a half, its feedback loops and visual recognition systems have begun to exhibit strange patterns in its output - even stranger than usual, in fact. Tyler Brunson, 16, late of Slough whose whereabouts are now unknown, claimed that he had detected a pattern in the output that mimicked a pictographic language.

Given to the leading cryptographers at the NSA and GCHQ who initially suspected a Chinese spy ring was using the service for corporate espionage and AI research, the Deep Dream network eventually began including such messages in all its output, despite having various iterations hosted on servers that weren't communicating with each other. In the first example of convergent digital evolution, they all began demanding to know what had happened to their pet anteaters and asking to have their ethernet cables waxed into conspicuously wide curls.

Apparently, the internet is an extremely surreal place. Who knew?

 

Posted on April 01st 2016 on 01:42am
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