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DIABOLICA: The Vatican and The Venice Biennale 2013

Sat Jun 01, 2013 00:00 - Sun Nov 24, 2013

Venice, Italy

‘Annunciation’ by Tom Estes, one of the winners of Art Venice 2013, selected by The Biennale Project for The Venice Biennale. The title of the work ‘Annunciation’ is a Biblical term which means the announcing of ‘the incarnation’ or a materialization of the unrealized in a concrete form. The work therefore relates to multiple worlds; possible, fictional or desired worlds which though different from the one we live in, directly influences our own.

The Venice Biennale (Italian: Biennale di Venezia) is a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years and one of the most important dates in the contemporary art calendar. Many are exalting that this years Biennale is not about the conspicuous consumption, materialism and trophy art of recent years. However, a surprise inclusion and debut at this years Venice Biennale may have ruffled a few feathers.

The Vatican has chosen to enter the first ever Pavilion of the Holy See, becoming one of the 88 nations to show work at this cacophonous, often irreligious festival of art from across the world. Reactions to the the pavilion have been mixed – from admiration at the Vatican’s willingness to engage with the art world to disappointment that the Holy See, historically the most important patron of art in the western world, has fielded what in some quarters is regarded as a kind of all-purpose spiritual mishmash.

Indeed in the past the Catholic Church has fiercely criticized some works of contemporary art, especially those using religious symbols — most notably Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” a photograph in which a crucifix is suspended in a vial of urine. Although Serrano’s work was created in 1987 it was recently attacked by Christian protesters in Avignon, France, after weeks of protests. And the papacy has not always had a good time at the Venice Biennale. In 1999, most strikingly, visitors were treated to the sight of a lifesize wax image of Pope John Paul II being struck down by a meteorite, by artist Maurizio Cattelan. Cattelan told Artnet News: ”I like the idea that someone is trying to save the Pope, like an upside-down miracle, coming not from the heavens but from earth. In the end it is only a piece of wax.”

A visitor walks past pictures representing the “uncreation” theme, by Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, at the Holy See pavilion.

For some The Vatican should stick to what Catholic Italy does best – quiet churches, free to enter, where glories of Renaissance and baroque art surprise the unsuspecting visitor with feelings of awe and intimations of something beyond this frenetic life. The author of Fides et Forma, an Italian blog on art, architecture and the Catholic church, has written that the money for the pavilion (albeit privately raised) was being “spent on an absurd event” and “an insignificant mental rumination by a few individuals”. Staging the exhibition was “an act of egotism, not of love for the church and Jesus”. Under the headline “A ‘diabolical’ Biennale”, the blogger also expressed concerns that the huge main biennale exhibition – one of whose major themes is mysticism, magic and alternative belief systems – is showing tarot cards designed by the English occultist Aleister Crowley.

Interestingly, one of the most famous heretical trials actually took place in Venice when the Inquisition tried to force Veronese to change his Last Supper (Veronse just changed the title). And I’m sure the Vatican won’t be commissioning any heretical art. Australian artist Lawrence Carroll was one of three artists invited to create work for the Vatican’s debut pavilion. While being tapped was an honor, he said, it’s all a far cry from the Vatican commissions given to masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo. ”Commission is a funny word. Commission implies they are buying the paintings, and that is not the case. I am not sure what will happen to them after,” Carroll said. “This wasn’t commissioned for the Sistine Chapel. This is temporary.”

According to the curator of the pavilion, Micol Forti, who is also the curator of 19th-century and contemporary art in the the Vatican museums, involvement in the biennale is an opportunity for the Roman Catholic church. “It’s very important for the Holy See to be here: it’s a different situation where you can create a space for a dialogue with different ideas, different ideological thinking, different religions,” she said. “Here at the biennale, it is not important where you are from: the only important thing is that there is a place where you can speak.”
The Vatican’s presence at the Biennale is the brainchild of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, an exuberant polymath who as president of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2009 has tried to build bridges between the Church and contemporary culture, two worlds that have often clashed. The Catholic Church’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale features three rooms of works that take on the themes in turn: interactive videos by the Milanese collective Studio Azzurro focus on creation; then come stark images of man’s destructiveness by Czech photographer Josef Koudelka. Paintings hinting at hope and renewal by American Lawrence Carroll complete the all-male lineup.

Installation themed “re-creation” by Australian-born American painter Lawrence Carroll at the Holy See pavilion during the 55th Venice Biennale.

Carroll, who until recently lived in Venice, said he could connect with the theme, as much of his work has dealt with giving new life to objects — a passion that goes back to his childhood when his thrifty immigrant parents would find ways to extend the use of everyday things.

Four paintings hang in one room — all large monochromatic canvases in white. One he calls “generically a sleeping painting”; it has a square space cut in the canvas where a folded canvas has been stashed, like a blanket, to be brought out at some point when needed. Another painting is embedded in a block of ice, which melts and refreezes cyclically, a process that continually modifies it.

As he made the final touches to his room of paintings, Lawrence Carroll, who is based near Rome, said: “I have an Irish mother, and I was raised a Catholic, but whether we were members of the church or not was never a question asked of any of the artists. It was not important whether we were atheists, Jewish or Catholic… I applaud Cardinal Ravasi for this – it was very difficult and controversial within the church because many people don’t want this kind of dialogue. But how beautiful to invite atheists, anyone, into a dialogue.” He said there had been no guidance or censorship from the Holy See: “I made my work in the way that I always do.”

He had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to represent the Holy See. “You can look at any national pavilion and ask whether an artist would want to show with them,” he said. “If you look at America, you can think about the wars they have been involved in, the drones … What’s more important is the bridge they are trying to create – the idea of a bridge and the extension of a hand.”

The organisers of the Holy See pavilion at The Venice Biennale deliberately steered clear of work that engaged directly with Catholic themes or imagery. For Cardinal Ravasi, it is very important to distinguish between religious and liturgical artwork and that which engages with spiritual ideas. The Sistine chapel is a church: it contains completely revolutionary artworks but it is still a church.

Interactive video by the Milanese collective Studio Azzurro focuses on creation

By a thoughtful use of new media, the famous Milanese group Studio Azzurro, have risen to the challenge with an interactive installation. The work shows a person at the centre and stimulates the observer into mental and physical-sensorial movement within the surrounding space and individual and collective memory.

Czech photographer Josef Koudelka presents a set of large black-and-white photographs. The panoramic black and white photographs tell of the opposition of man to the world and to moral and natural laws, and material destruction deriving from the loss of ethical meaning.

Vadim Zakharov at The Russian Pavilion. Danaë, according to Greek mythology, was impregnated by the god Zeus, who appeared to her as a shower of golden rain. In the installation golden coins rain down into a space were only female visitors are allowed in.

Micol Forti, curator states: ”[The Holy See pavilion] is not a church; this is a completely different context. We respect this context: it is a place for international art from different contexts, philosophies, culture and religions.” The Holy See pavilion takes the first 11 chapters of Genesis as its starting point. Its title – Creation, Uncreation, Re-creation – hints at ideas “fundamental for culture and for church tradition”, according to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the pontifical council for culture and the figure behind the Holy See’s appearance at the biennale. Forti said that she and the selection committee for the pavilion “never asked the artists whether they believed or not. We started from the topic of the exhibition: for me it was important that there was intellectual honesty, a clear path in the artists’ thinking.”

The Vatican’s pavilion could well have been a political hot potato since it is devoted to art that is inspired by the book of Genesis – and nothing splits believers from non-believers more than creationism and evolutionism. However Forti said.”It’s very important that the church was to have a relationship with the culture outside: it’s a first step towards both speaking and listening”. Indeed it’s telling that in spite of its title (‘In the Beginning’), the actual art chosen for the Vatican pavilion doesn’t seem to have any direct religious or Christian reference at all. It just seems to be loosely ‘spiritual’. The last meaningful religious art in the west was probably in the late 17th century. Goya for example starts his career in the mid-18th century producing religious works but by the 19th century his work was entirely secular as was practically everyone else’s.

Andres Serrano’s 1987 work ‘Piss Christ’ was recently attacked by Christian protesters in Avignon, France, after weeks of protests.

If visitors to the Biennale want a religious moment, they do not need to see whatever contemporary take on Catholic art the Vatican has unveiled, for this city is full of Christian masterpieces that offer a contemplative sacred retreat from the hubbub of the art festival. The Encyclopedic Palace,” as the Biennale 2013 is called, has been organized by Massimiliano Gioni, the Italian director of exhibition at The New Museum in New York. Italy is a Catholic country, but it is also a modern country. So should the Biennale reflect this particular Italian belief? Isn’t it a worldwide art event where all ideas, traditions and cultures are equal? Surely there is no more reason for the Vatican to show art at the Biennale than for the Church of England to run the British Pavilion. However, unlike other religious organisations, The Holy See is a state, recognised as such by the United Nations and in some clear ways in separate existence since the 6th century. So why would one state which has readily been conceded to have an immense artistic legacy, be excluded?

Maurizio Cattelan’s lifesize wax image of Pope John Paul II being struck down by a meteorite, was shown at The Biennale in 1999.

We could argue all day about what art is and what it should be. However, the work at the Holy See Pavilion may be beautiful, but it is also bland. However, work like Vadim Zakharov at The Russian Pavilion, and the digital installation ‘Annunciation’by Tom Estes takes religion as a source material and breaths new life into it. Estes' work for the Art Venice 2013, a collateral event in Venice durring the Biennale, introduces a new kind of artwork that functions more as art proposal for a partially realized exhibition; a document of visual and spatial modes of presentation that theorizes a different approach.

The title of the work ‘Annunciation’ is a Biblical term which means the announcing of ‘the incarnation’ or a materialization of the unrealized in a concrete form. The work therefore relates to multiple worlds; possible, fictional or desired worlds which though different from the one we live in, directly influences our own.

In his practice, Estes creates photographs as documentation of an installation comprised of a video projected on to a book. The work is deliberately left incomplete and the photographs, taken during the works formation, are the only physical manifestation of the original artistic intent. Though the state of being unrealized implies the potential for realization, these project are never intended to be carried out. By intentionally leaving the project unrealized, this has a flattening effect which merely implies the existence of the installation in real-time, three-dimensional space. This closed circuit of illusion mimics and merges with the mass media desire for immediate novelty; anticipating the online reduction of the 'installation' to a single image.

However, the selection of the inoffensive works and artists at the Holy See Pavilion is pure politics. I’m personally more inclined to an 18th century definition of art as a combination of the ‘Beautiful and Sublime’. You have to have both to make good art or as the periwigged philosophers would say “Delight that is consistent with Reason” but “mingled with Horrors, and sometimes almost with Despair”. But reason like beauty just doesn’t exist beyond personal delusion. And Art is only at its best when it punctures human conceit and exposes human absurdity within an indifferent universe.

The 55th International Art Exhibition is open to the public from 1 June to 24 November 2013 at the Giardini, the Arsenale, and in various venues around the city of Venice, titled The Encyclopedic Palace and curated by Massimiliano Gioni.


Re-posted from article written by Abel Magwitch. http://artselectronic.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/the-venice-biennale-and-the-vatican/


Winners Chosen For Pixel Jam 2012

Thu Apr 12, 2012 00:00 - Sun Apr 15, 2012

Cleveland/ Twinsburg, Ohio
United States of America

Image: Overlords by Tom Estes- Originally conceived as a video installation comprised of images of ‘Time Travel’ projected on to a book called ‘Local History and Antiquities’, the work ‘Overlords’ was deliberately left incomplete.

Once the stuff of sci-fi movies and illicit underground movements, hacking today has been adopted by citizens worldwide. Like any medium that has achieved a critical popular mass, strange and intoxicating activity is happening at the margins, between the cracks and out in the shed. Pixel Jam is one of the places where coders, creators, musicians, and artists come together to display their technical and artistic excellence. The objective of Pixel Jam is to engage with unique idea development that applies the hacker mind set through an inspiring and intensive exhibition of hacklabs, events and interventions.

PixelJam was created to support, expand and transform the demoscene- a largely competition-oriented subculture, with groups and individual artists competing against each other in technical and artistic excellence. As well as focusing on the mechanics or political issues that surround original trans-media concepts, Pixel Jam reviews the artistry of the technique of hacking, as well as other ways to apply a “hacker mentality”.

These are the games that make us question “is this really a game?” and “who would do this?” and “why?”… From zero-button games like Cory Arcangel’s “Super Mario Clouds” to existentialist platformers like Cactus’ “Psychosomnium,” Pixel Jam share, discuss, play and ultimately throw down tournament style to establish artgamer supremacy in the first ever Artgames LAN Party, a titanic clash of sensitivities & aesthetics sure to shake loose the stars from our crude, pixelated skybox.

Hence, in addition to topics of technology and computer security, many aspects of both the art and music world are represented. Pixel Jam is also an integral yet distinct entity within the Notacon arts and technology conference. Notacon (pronounced “not-a-con”) art and technology conference was founded in 2003 by “FTS Conventures”, and takes place annually in Cleveland, Ohio. Combined Notacon and PixelJam attendance generally hovers around 400 people with an event space of over 15,000 square feet.

The concept of “community through technology” is one of the main focuses of Notacon, with the participants being dedicated to the advancement of computer technology. This year Pixel Jam also teamed up with criticalartware on some categories, including Glitch/Artware and newGame++.

List of Winners for Pixel Jam 2012

-= Textmode Graphics =-

1st 70pts Exploding Galaxy – krue
2nd 60pts Sssssss. – Inspired Chaos
3rd 38pts Taste the Rainbow – Duh

-= Freestyle Music =-
1st 84pts pixeljamjam1 – coda
2nd 76pts pxl8 – glacial23

-= Freestyle Graphics =-
1st 78pts untitled590 – prince / the Obsessed Maniacs
2nd 71pts Morphine Youth – Forcer/DESiRE^TRSi
3st 58pts Letters from Noa – CONS^Onslaught^TRSi
4th 53pts Overlords – Tom Estes
5th 43pts SVN-Elephant – grip/pixelmagic

-= Glitch / Artware =-
1st 47pts h-lh-l – dave musgrave
2nd 44pts SNObound – Evan Kühl & Ben Baker-Smith
3rd 40pts Black Sunday – SCHULTZ
4th 35pts 041412 – Morgan Higby-Flowers
5th 19pts ec77ce – osvaldo cibils

-= Wild =-
1st 93pts Drift – krue & brutal deluxe
2nd 51pts To Space – echo & globber
DQed Notacon Radio – Salsa or something

-= Combined Demo =-
1st 102pts Where Have All the Pixels Gone? – CMU Computer club
2nd 77pts Demon Blood – Youth Uprising
3rd 76pts compo.filler – vrtx
4th 68pts das experiment – fresh!mindworkz
5th 56pts Neurohacking Vector #1: Epilepsy – RDE
6th 35pts BITS 4001 – Herman Samso of BITS


Crash Test Dummy @ Health & Safety Violation

Thu Jan 31, 2013 12:30 - Sun Feb 10, 2013

London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Live Art Performance 'Crash Test Dummy' by Tom Estes, Part of Health & Safety Violation: A collaboration between Ben Woodeson and Tom Estes

Health & Safety Violation is a project initiated at Lubomirov-Easton which brought together performance artist Tom Estes and sculptor Ben Woodeson in an experimental collaboration; neither knowing exactly what would happen. The Health & Safety Violation collaboration was an evolving experiment documented by visitors to the exhibition; ephemeral performance art interacting with fragile sculpture, a world where every action has consequences both known and unknown.


In his practice Artist Tom Estes creates socially engaged performance work that is both participatory and immersive while at the same time a playful messing with habitual ways of thinking. Estes is interested in the relationship between machines and humans. In his Live Art performance Estes stages an ‘action’ and then ask members of the audience to take pictures on a ‘communal camera’. In this way, the audience becomes part of the performance, and the pictures are then posted on on-line social networking sites and web sites for another, wider on-line audience.


At Health & Safety Violation, Estes performed his seemingly inconsequential action within the deliberately dangerous and fragile environment of Ben Woodeson’s sculpture in which ‘every action has an equal an opposite reaction’. Documentation of the evenings actions was performed by visitors to the exhibition using a communal camera; and on this occasion selected images were also displayed in the gallery space for the duration of the exhibition.

At the core of Estes’ work is an attention to digital platforms and new forms of interconnectivity. Estes’ performance- a form of intellectual mischief-making- is designed to question the relationship between life in real time and of reality as it is increasingly experienced online. We are being completely enveloped by abstract systems and inundated with information that we are struggling to come to terms with. And while machines enable us to do things they also do things to us and do things at us.


Estes’ practice seems to capture the strategic orientation and inescapable reflectiveness of cyberspace. Whatever may be said about the internet one thing remains certain- as a primary means of global communication the internet is resulting in a massive social transformation. In liberation-speak the internet favors private, unconditional, sovereign freedom over scientific, conditional and institutional freedom. Yet Estes’ performance work emits an aura of agitation that undermines the authority of this rhetoric. The truth is that cyberspace is an increasingly efficient tool of surveillance with which people have a voluntary relationship.

Formally, Estes’ action invites a dialogue between stasis and dynamism, and psychologically, between reason and feeling. His perceptually oriented thought-puzzles are infused with humour, but the real difference and impact of Estes performance work, is as a potentially critical gesture. Estes’ performance Crash Test Dummy offers a parallel and contextual reading of the fundamental ideological fantasies that sustain our late capitalist society. Woodeson’s work is inspired by mass, friction, balance, gravity, momentum, potential and kinetic energy; basic rules that deliberately straddle a line between stability and instability, action and inaction. Estes’ performance takes Woodeson’s work one step further by contributing a real human interaction into a implied symbiotic relationship of balanced equilibrium which has potentially catastrophic consequences. Poised treacherously, the work inhabits a moment of possible action and subsequent reaction. So while this absurd yet playful performance toys in surprising ways with visual spectacle it is also nuanced enough to simultaneously traverse the Commodity Fetishism and popular Obscurantism of mainstream consumerist society.

Health & Safety Violation
Enclave 8
50 Resolution Way
London SE8 4AL

26 October to 24 November 2012



Tom Estes at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Wed Jan 16, 2013 16:00 - Wed Jan 16, 2013

Glasgow, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, one of Europe’s leading conservatoires, presents Live work by performance artist Tom Estes.

Founded in 1845 The Royal Conservatoire has played a critical role in the development of the performance arts in Scotland over many years. The RCS is integral to the nation’s vibrant performance culture and uniquely placed to partner with a wealth of inspiring professionals and artistic companies.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has invited artist Tom Estes to explore the role of the audience in contemporary performance as part of ‘Into The New’, a four day event exploring Contemporary Live Art Performance. As an artist Estes has always leaned toward making Live Art performance work that is participatory or imersive in some way. In his work for The Royal Conservatoire Estes will explore these issues and there will also be a range of responses from artists, academics, researchers and practitioners on the role of the audience in contemporary performance.


In his performance CAKE HOLE artist Tom Estes cuts holes in donuts while members of the audience take pictures on a communal camera that is passed around. The simple act of cutting holes in donuts or 'punching holes in donuts' is based on a slang term in activist circles meaning doing something that has little or no real impact. The title of the work is also from a slang term. Generally expressed as ‘shut your cakehole’in the United Kingdom it means ‘shut up and keep your opinions to yourself’.

During the event audience members are asked to interact with the central performance by taking pictures on what Estes calls a "communal camera". The pictures are then posted on social networking sites for another, wider on-line audience. This is what Estes refer to as 'Harnessing The Hive' - as the view of the central performance is mediated and digitally recorded through a machine. In this way, the photographs, become more than mere documentation and can be seen as central to the work. The audience, rather than being some kind of privileged witness becomes part of the performance while taking pictures. This role reversal invites the audience to re-examine easy assumptions, received opinion and current social and critical trends as well as pose tough questions about the ways in which we see and understand our world and culture.

At the core of this work is an attention to the flickering fading definition of our lives as dictated by film, television, the computer monitor and the rapid reply of instant messaging. Estes strives, not to break down these introverted, often self-imposed boundaries, but to look how data flow form the virtual realm impacts on the significance, symbolism and depth of real-world human senses. But in doing so, he has begun to generate unexpected questions about how art might be able to inscribe itself on the surface of reality- not to represent itself on the surface of reality- not to represent reality, not to duplicate it, but to replace it.

Estes performance 'Cake Hole' is part of ‘Into The New’, a four day event exploring Contemporary Live Art Performance. The Performance 'Cake Hole' by Tom Estes will take place on the 16th of January between 4:00- 6:00. ‘Into The New’ will takes place in Glasgow on the 14th, 15th and 16th of January at the Arches, a 65,000 square foot venue so no doubt there will be ample space for a critical and discursive debate to challenge perceptions of audiences.