The Visual Archive of Devotion and Taboo


Makkah 3D Puzzle produced by Wrebbit (1995)

In 1995, a puzzle company produced a 1038 piece architectural model of the Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, the expansive complex that contains the Kaaba. Upon delivery of 17,000 copies to Saudi Arabia, the construction toy was deemed idolatrous and the shipment destroyed. Little over 500 of the sets remained in Canada, and have since become collector's items. Ever since, the home construction of Islamic holy places has been an unspoken no-go zone in the field of toy production. A recent perusal of the Saudi Arabian Import Guide on banned and restricted products includes models or "prototypes" of the Kaaba[1]. However, as the axis mundi of the Islamic world and a non-figurative cuboid, the Kaaba is commonly reproduced in model form to decorate the dashboards or mantelpieces of devotees. Unlike other faiths, much Islamic devotional imagery hints at the experience or expectation of the physical act of pilgrimage. Popular devotional prints from Muslim South Asia reproduce the sculptural intensity of traversing the Kaaba through lenticular prints (two-dimensional images that portray a remarkable sense of three-dimensional depth through interlocking layers) as souvenirs of local shrines or promises of pilgrimage. Why then do construction toys or DIY-build models cross the line into profanity?  And to what extent does this also hold true for 3D printed objects?


Long Live Immortality: Art as cryogenesis at Ashkal Alwan


Still image from the documentary Transcendent Man (2009), featuring Ray Kurzweil.

Bills, letters, clothes, books, records, photos, DNA samples—these are some of Fredric Kurzweil's personal effects, collected and stored by his son Ray, who will one day use this material to bring his father (who died when Ray was 22) back to life. Cataloged in a temperature-controlled room in Kurzweil's own home, this material betrays a personal basis for the noted futurist's most famous fixation: triumph over death.[1]

Kurzweil's home could be an off-site extension of A Museum of Immortality, which opened at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut last Wednesday. Organized by Anton Vidokle and based on a curatorial concept by Boris Groys, the exhibition takes its inspiration from Kurzweil's now obscure predecessor in the field, Russian cosmist and theologian, Nikolai Fedorov. In the mid-1800s, Fedorov beseeched humanity to join together in "The Common Task": resurrecting every human being who has ever walked the Earth. Both a devout Christian and proto-transhumanist, Fedorov believed that controlling the forces of nature and exploring the far reaches of space carried out God's will. For Federov (as for Kurzweil) death is an obstacle which technology must overcome.


RECOMMENDED READING: Marx After Duchamp, or The Artist's Two Bodies


Excerpt from Marx After Duchamp, or The Artist's Two Bodies by Boris Groys on e-flux. Groys offers a portrait of artistic production and labor as it relates to technology, Duchamp's readymade, and the artist's body:

Gillian Wearing, Everything in life…, 1992-1993, from the series Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say, color coupler prints. via e-flux

At the turn of the twentieth century, art entered a new era of artistic mass production. Whereas the previous age was an era of artistic mass consumption, in our present time the situation has changed, and there are two primary developments that have led to this change. The first is the emergence of new technical means for producing and distributing images, and the second is a shift in our understanding of art, a change in the rules we use for identifying what is and what is not art...

 As masses of people have become well informed about advanced art production through biennials, triennials, Documentas, and related coverage, they have come to use media in the same way as artists. Contemporary means of communication and social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter offer global populations the ability to present their photos, videos, and texts in ways that cannot be distinguished from any post-Conceptualist artwork. And contemporary design offers the same populations a means of shaping and experiencing their apartments or workplaces as artistic installations. At the same time, the digital “content” or “products” that these millions of people present each day has no direct relation to their bodies; it is as “alienated” from them as any other contemporary artwork, and this means that it can be easily fragmented and reused in different contexts. And indeed, sampling by ...