Exploring the Concept of Democracy in Latin America: Carlos Motta's "The Good Life"

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Commissioned by Art in General, Carlos Motta's new Internet archive, The Good Life, is the latest part of a project the artist has developed since 2005, comprising 360 video interviews with pedestrians in twelve Latin American cities. In his essay, "Postscript: Civilization or Barbarity," the Colombian artist outlines the shift from politicized, creative practices, like those of Argentina's Third Cinema and Brazil's Paulo Freire, to increasing U.S. incursions, since the 1970s, into Latin American governments and economies. Attempting to close the divide "between democratic theory and practice" and reclaim, according to essayist Stamatina Gregory, an older conception of participatory politics, explored by Aristotle and revived by Hannah Arendt, Motta asks his interviewees about their own conceptions of democracy, democratization, and U.S. interventions in the region. Visitors can navigate the site via a variety of criteria, including interviewee occupation, location, and age group, as well as interview theme. The unedited, straightforward quality of the videos, Motta writes, renders "the process of the work's making transparent," foregrounding the many and varied stories and opinions that constitute the public community. While commissioned essays and texts, a forthcoming illustrated publication, and past exhibitions have articulated The Good Life's various facets and adaptable nature, Motta hopes the Internet will be "a way to reach a wider audience outside the field of art...and to make the work available to the individuals that responded to the questions" - Tyler Coburn

Image: Carlos Motta, Revolution is power for the people (Still from The Good Life), 2008

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Ibis redibis non morieris in bello (2006) - Claire Fontaine

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More work by Claire Fontaine

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The Debates In Depth

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Curated by artists Caspar Stracke and Gabriela Monroy, Brooklyn's video_dumbo, a festival of the electronic moving image in all its various forms, debuts its 2008 edition tonight-- right up against another event that will be filling video and computer screens worldwide, the first US presidential candidate debates. Meeting that programming challenge, Stracke and Monroy have organized Hack the Debate in 3D!. Thanks to some help from sponsors Current and Twitter, the event will include an ongoing Twitterized comments feed integrated into three-dimensional projection of the live debate -- and, as the curators remind us in their program notes, "ironically, this stereoscopic system is based on the colors RED and BLUE." The rest of video_dumbo's enticing lineup includes the premiere of in complete world by Shelly Silver and two full days of new work by an intergenerational array of media artists, including Phyllis Baldino, Mike Hoolboom, Scott Pagano, Torsten Z. Burns and Darrin Martin, eteam, John Michael Boling and Javier Morales, Nicolas Provost, Sharon Hayes, PFFR and scads more. With the recent fading-away of the New York Video Festival and other like-minded Manhattan events, video_dumbo seems to carry on the necessary tradition of the smartly-organized theatrical festival. - Ed Halter

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Assassination Adventure (1988)<br> - Mark Allen

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This piece, created in 1988 with an Apple IIgs, imagines "a cheesy video game based on the assassination of John F. Kennedy"

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CBS Outdoor Pull Suzanne Opton's "Soldier" Billboards During the Republican National Convention

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The Republican National Convention is still a handful of days away, but controversy is already being courted in Minneapolis-St. Paul over CBS Outdoor's decision to cancel its contract with artist Suzanne Opton due to the politically-sensitive nature of her photographs. Working with local organization Forecast Public Art and curator Susan Reynolds, Opton aimed to display several billboards depicting active-duty American soldiers, whom she photographed at Fort Drum, New York in 2004 and 2005. Like Rineke Dijkstra's series of photographs of young soldiers serving in the French Foreign Legion and Israeli Army, Opton's works offer empathetic portraits of her subjects, at a time when American military action in Iraq and Afghanistan elicits increasing national dissent. Her striking, monumental images find their subjects stripped of body armor and military dress and leaning their heads against a table. The photographs are vertically-scaled and cropped to only show each subject's head and neck, a visual decision Opton has suggested lends vulnerability to these unarmed soldiers, but which also, in light of past Al Qaeda videos, carries a far more disturbing undertone. On the project's website -- now the most significant record of the billboards -- Opton accompanies each of the nine photographs with the length of time served, by a given subject, in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a sense, because of the ambivalent mix of emotions these images conjure, Opton's choice to exhibit them in equally ambivalent public spaces seemed very appropriate. Yet that ambiguity, the artist claimed, was precisely the cause of CBS Outdoor's concern. Worry about possible misinterpretation of the images -- and the lack of explicit indication that they were artworks, as opposed to advertisements -- contributed, she said, to the organization's decision to discontinue her contract. If nothing else, Opton's proposal will serve as an ...

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Interview with Aleksandra Domanovic

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Aleksandra Domanovic is a Berlin-based artist who works primarily on the internet. Much of her art contrasts and recontextualizes content derived online, such as found videos and Google Maps, in an effort to establish a dialogue between these different materials. I interviewed her via email. - Ceci Moss

You were born in Serbia, grew up in Slovenia and now reside in Berlin. Has this transnationalism inflected your work? How so?

I was born in Serbia, but in a Slovakian minority in Vojvodina. Hmm, I can't say how this expresses in my work...most of the artists I know are global nomads. I have a blurred sense of nationality and have no real feeling of belonging anywhere, which may explain my obsession with maps. I also lived in Vienna for six years and spend some time in Tokyo before moving to Berlin, and for now I still enjoy not having a permanent residence.

As a blogger for VVORK, you obviously spend a lot of time surfing the web. How does this daily routine influence your practice as an artist?

I became an artist through and with VVORK. Studying graphic design, but always making video on the side, I joined VVORK about one week after it was founded by Oliver, Georg and Christoph. Surfing the web extensively, seeing so much good work and discovering it for myself, motivated me.

You completed two projects which paired online mapping and video: Srbija Do Tokia and Tesla. Could you explain the concept behind these two works?

There are 3 pages: Srbija Do Tokia, Tesla and Holivud, all written as they are pronounced in Serbian language, which is the grammatically correct way of writing foreign words in Serbia. All reflect Serbian nationalism and the recent independence of Kosovo. The day after the declaration, there were videos ...

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Knitting Circles Around the War

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Cat Mazza is a practitioner of what sociologist Betsy Greer has called "craftivism." She's used knitting and other needlecraft-related processes to address pertinent political issues. Her projects are particularly adept at effecting a tactical turning of the tables on issues; for instance, using hand-made (though often computer- or software-assisted) processes to address labor conditions. Her latest project is similarly successful at fighting fire with fire (or should we say "fiber"?), parodying a US government program--even using its own explicit instructions--to critique the ideas behind it. Stitch for Senate is a contemporary take on the historic practice of charitable knitting. During WWII, women and children supported the war effort by knitting clothing and protective gear for soldiers abroad. Following the US invasion of Iraq, Americans were encouraged to make similar efforts for soldiers stationed in Iraq and Aghanistan. However, as Mazza points out in a video on her site, this war is not as popular as WWII, consequently neither is the knitting initiative. On the fourth anniversary of the invasion, in order to spur more thought and dialogue about the war, Mazza launched Stitch for Senate which encourages users to download patterns and knit helmet liners not for combat troops but for every member of the US Senate (the legislative body that votes to declare war), giving them the responsibility of distributing the fuzzy armaments. Meanwhile, the website is a space for documentation of these efforts as well as posts by users about war-related discussions and acts of charity, patriotism, and activism within radius of their own local knitting circles. A few helmet liners won't unravel the war, but as with craft groups before them, projects like these do provide a safe platform for approaching (or stabbing a needle into) bigger issues. - Marisa Olson


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UV Tagging

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Initially, Elliott Malkin's new work, Graffiti for Butterflies, reads like a science fair project. One can just see the riveting subtitle, "Directing monarch butterflies to urban food sources along migratory routes in North America" taped-up in bold letters across the top of a trifold sign affixed with statistical charts and photographic evidence. In truth, this mostly internet-based project is a perfect spoof of the recent spate of R&D art experiments that saturate the web, performing rather than practicing science, even as it provides us with a series of informative links and nice photos of caterpillars and butterflies thriving in the wilds of midtown Manhattan. Malkin's big idea was to spraypaint printed decals of milkweed flowers (the food source of choice for Monarchs) with aerosol sunblock that reflects UV light, thus making it stand out to those creatures with "butterfly vision." The images are then to be placed remarkably close to the real thing they represent, in order to broadcast the signal (Malkin's got the techie language down pat) to the migratory creatures that they have arrived at a way station. He likens it to "the equivalent of a fast-food sign on a highway, advertising rest stops." A demo video, in simulated "butterfly vision," illustrates the process of creating these nouveau golden arches. It would be ironic if hordes of monarchs took the bait, as the same type of mimicry the artist invokes is a natural defense strategy often used by other species of butterflies hoping to masquerade as the poison creatures. So far, Malkin's only tested one "prototype," but it did manage to attract a butterfly who even colonized the potted milkweed with her own caterpillar eggs. Ultimately, he confesses to being more interested in distributing the idea than tagging the entire city himself. This ...

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Free at Last... Sort Of.

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Critical Art Ensemble co-founder Dr. Steven Kurtz has been cleared of all charges in what is widely acknowledged as a bogus mail fraud case, and the federal government has said that they do not plan to appeal the judge's decree that the case was without merit. The CAE is a tactical media group whose highly-acclaimed, internationally-exhibited art and activist academic writings have been explicitly critical of threats to civil liberty, such as those posed in the case against Kurtz and his colleague, Professor Robert Ferrell. Dr. Ferrell and Dr. Kurtz were accused for an activity common in the field of scientific research: mailing each other materials in the spirit of collaboration and information-sharing. The U.S. government originally charged Kurtz with bioterrorism, after local officials discovered biological artwork in his home while responding to an emergency call regarding the tragic death of his wife. When this tack failed, they tried to save face by prosecuting both Kurtz and Ferrell for mail fraud. The allegation was that this use of the mail violated the terms of sale of the innocuous bacteria exchanged between the two parties. Under the Patriot Act, being found guilty of this crime could carry a sentence of up to twenty years in prison, rather than the five that used to threaten gangsters, petty criminals, and the long list of activists the government has previously tried to silence. At a MoMA screening of Lynn Hershman's film Strange Culture, which centered on Kurtz's case, the artist said that he was fairly certain that this was the first instance in which an individual was charged with fraud without another party actually claiming to have been defrauded. Others have previously likened the case to an act of making a federal case out of [allegedly] breaking the warranty on ...

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Prison Inspection

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Architectural design is currently enjoying a watershed moment of increased media attention, but among all the discussion of new museums, opera houses, and theatres, there is little attention paid to one of the world's oldest and most significant cultural institutions: the prison. According to a recent Washington Post article, more than 1 in 100 American adults were incarcerated at the start of 2008, making jails among the most popularly-visited sites in the nation. Historically, these buildings have been important tools in the disciplining of societies (including those who lived and worked in them, or those seeking to avoid them), and they've often provided major critical metaphors for the transmission of ideology and power structures-- most famously in the case of Foucault's interest in Bentham's panopticon. But for all the discussion generated about the design of this structure, it was ultimately dismissed as a bad idea, and few new ideas have been proposed. An exhibition at Turin's Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, entitled "YOUprison: Some thoughts on the limitation of space and freedom," invites 11 international architectural studios to suggest prison designs that not only consider the practical challenges of such spaces (small matching units, confinement, surveillance sight lines, lockdown procedures), but also the contemporary implications of imprisonment. Curated by Francesco Bonami, the show includes a true who's-who of architects, including Alexander Brodsky, Diller+Scofidio, INABA, Eyal+Ines Weizman, and others. Translating these designs and their site-specific psychological effects into the context of a museum space present a unique challenge for all involved, but the results will offer proof of the jail cell's status as unspoken spectacle and insight into the architect's ethical and personal relationship to the places they create. Many have even chosen to use the cells as platforms for the dissemination ...

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