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I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there

I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there

© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Jill Gibbon, Leeds Beckett University

The arms multinational BAE Systems is in the final stages of a deal to sell 48 Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence of war crimes in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians but the Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemeni schools, markets and hospitals, killing more than 10,000 people including children, while survivors face disease and starvation with the collapse of infrastructure.

Fragments of bombs made in Britain and the US have been found in the debris of some of these attacks, yet both countries continue to sell arms to the Saudi regime.

Such deals take place in arms fairs, away from the public eye. I have drawn undercover in fairs in Europe and the Middle East for the past ten years, in an attempt to understand how international arms sales are normalised and legitimised. Access is restricted, but I get in by dressing up as a security consultant with a suit, heels, fake pearls, and a sham company. My performance is a metaphor for the charade of respectability in the industry.

A sales rep.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Arms fairs emerged from the globalisation of the military industry in the late 1990s. At the end of the Cold War, defence budgets were cut. There was a brief opportunity to convert military production facilities into civil areas such as medical equipment, transport and renewable energy; instead, arms companies merged into multinationals, expanded into security, and focused on a global market. Arms fairs were set up to provide venues for these deals.

The largest, DSEI (the Defence Security Exhibition International) takes place every two years in London, with similar fairs in Paris, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Here, weapons are displayed to an international clientele including countries at war, unstable states and repressive regimes.

DSEI welcomes 75% of the countries that the UK Foreign Office has listed as “Human Rights Priorities”, where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”.

A tank salesman.
© Jill Gibbon

Inside a fair, missiles, bombs and bullets are arranged under spotlights; guns are available to try out for weight and size, and to aim at imaginary targets; mannequins pose in camouflage offering private military services and tear gas; tanks are open for viewing. “Lethality” is a sales slogan. Manufacturers boast of the precision of their products, as if war could be refined through science.

As with most advertising, such claims turn out to be exaggerated when the weapons are actually used. Bombing is inevitably inaccurate, compromised by an inbuilt margin of error, malfunctions, mistaken intelligence and the weather. The difference between a combatant and civilian is also increasingly unclear, as Yemen shows. Yet such claims make war more likely.

String quartet.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Many stalls hand out gifts as an alternative to business cards – stress-balls in the shape of bombs, grenades and tanks, branded sweets and pens. A gas mask manufacturer has condoms with the slogan, “The ultimate protection”. Waiting staff hover with trays of wine, beer and grapes, while a string quartet plays Handel and Mozart.

Grenade stress relief.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

There are also promotions. The BAE subsidiary Bofors has a live satellite link to its weapons testing facility in Sweden where a military vehicle explodes in a cloud of light and metal. Alongside the video screens, bowls are filled with toffees in wrappers saying, “Welcome to hell”. Brochures explain that the Bofors test centre is “Hell for your product, heaven for your investment”. The impact on people of the weapons that pass through the test centre is oddly missing. In an arms fair, missiles are forever products.

How to draw this? My drawings veer between caricature and observational methods. Mainly, I focus on the etiquette that gives the industry an appearance of respectability – the handshakes, pinstriped suits, hospitality, and violins. I also draw cracks in the façade – a lewd advance, a rep slumped in a chair with his head in his hands, the continual, desperate drinking. Brecht used the Latin word gestus to describe an attitude that expresses a social role or condition. In his plays, gestures are frozen so they seem strange. Perhaps drawing can be used in a similar way.

© Jill Gibbon

Or, perhaps the gifts are sufficient in themselves to reveal the strange amorality of an industry that uses war as a sales opportunity. The BAE Bofors toffees might be intended to convey the impact of a test centre on weapons with the slogan “Welcome to hell” – but sweets are usually meant for children.The Conversation

Jill Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Arts, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries

Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries

Moliere Dimanche would use anything he could scrounge up – pieces of folders, the back of commissary forms, old letters – as canvases.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Rutgers University

In 2007, Haitian-American artist Moliere Dimanche was sentenced to 10 years in Florida state prisons, where he ended up serving eight-and-a-half years.

While imprisoned, he made art – a series of pencil drawings on the back of stray sheets of paper – to document the brutality of his time spent behind bars, much of it in isolation.

In 2017, I was introduced to Dimanche, one of the dozens of currently and formerly incarcerated people I have interviewed over the past several years for my forthcoming book on visual art in the era of mass incarceration.

Often using state-issued material or contraband, imprisoned artists use a myriad of genres and styles to create political collages, portraits of other imprisoned people and mixed-media works that comment on abuse, racism and the exploitation of prison labor.

In Dimanche’s story, I see the stories of thousands of others in U.S. prisons who are using art and creativity to shine a light on their experiences and advocate for systemic change.

A malignant system

Florida prisons, in particular, have become notorious for their pervasive culture of neglect and abuse.

In 2016, investigative reporter Eyal Press wrote about the torture and routine abuse that took place in the mental health units of Florida’s prisons.

Central to Press’ account was the case of Darren Rainey, an incarcerated man with a history of schizophrenia who was scalded to death when prison officers forced him into a shower of boiling hot water.

According to The Miami Herald, at least 145 people have died in state penal facilities so in 2018, making Florida’s prisons among the deadliest in the country.

In response, many inside have resisted or continue to resist the inhumane treatment and prison conditions. Earlier in 2018, prison laborers in Florida organized a strike to protest unpaid labor and brutal working conditions. (Many of the participants were punished with solitary confinement.)

In August, incarcerated people in Florida joined others across the country in a nationwide prison strike. Their demands include being paid prevailing state wages for their labor, reforms that would allow prisoners to file grievances when their rights are violated, and a reinstatement of Pell grants in all U.S. states and territories.

While these strikes can certainly bring attention to dire prison conditions, the stories of incarcerated people can also emerge in creative and clandestine ways – in drawings, photographs, paintings, letters and poetry.

Incarcerated activists like Kevin “Rashid” Johnson – whose Guardian essay denouncing prison labor as “modern slavery” went viral in August – also use art to communicate with the public.

Because prisons are institutions of constant surveillance and censorship, art can serve as a crucial conduit for self-expression and as a tool for survival – a way to earn money, document prison conditions and stay connected with the outside world.

Drawing to survive

After Moliere Dimanche was sentenced, his family was unable to financially support him. From the costs of phone calls to commissary items to the expenses of visits to see imprisoned relatives, prisons can be a financial drain for families already struggling to get by.

Dimanche soon realized that he could use art as currency for toiletries, clothing, cigarettes, writing utensils and coffee. Other incarcerated men – and even some prison staff – commissioned him to make portraits, drawings and greeting cards that they would then give to their loved ones. He also designed tattoos and fashioned a tattoo gun and ink from prison supplies.

Dimanche ultimately created a series of fantastical, highly symbolic, allegorical drawings during his time in solitary confinement. They are bold, cartoonish representations. Filled with dark humor, they provide a sustained lens into the abuses inside Florida’s prison system.

Moliere Dimanche realized that his drawings could accomplish much good: He could take care of basic needs, document his experience in prison and relay messages to the outside world.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

While art gave him a way to provide for his basic needs and acted as an outlet for creative expression, Dimanche also became an expert of the state’s penal system and how it stifles the rights of the imprisoned. Early into his sentencing, he began to study law and to advocate for himself and others.

He became a writ writer – a jailhouse lawyer – filing grievances and writing briefs on behalf of fellow prisoners and himself.

But he believes his legal advocacy only subjected him to more punishment and surveillance. He was held in solitary confinement for much of his sentence.

Even in isolation, he continued his writ writing and making art.

In a piece called “Pills and Potions,” Dimanche depicts himself as the Monopoly Man, and converted the Monopoly board into the Florida Department of Corrections, with each property representing a different prison.

‘Pills and Potions’ is an allegorical drawing that depicts Moliere Dimanche as the Monopoly Man ‘bouncing around from prison to prison.’
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

“I had been bounced around so much for writing grievances,” he explained,
“I just depicted myself as the Monopoly man running around the board, bouncing around from prison to prison.”

“I had to find a way to laugh about some of this stuff.”

There’s nothing funny about some of the brutal forms of punishment depicted in many of his pieces.

There’s what Dimanche calls “the strip” – a punishment in which guards “take your linen, they take your mattress, and they take your clothing, and they put you in a cell for 72 hour restriction and you don’t have anything in there … and it’s absolutely freezing in that cell and you have stay in it without clothing or anything the whole time.”

According to Dimanche, “saving a life” involves a corrections officers shackling a prisoner to supposedly take him to a medical appointment. But once he’s out of the cell and out of sight, they slam the prisoner’s head against a wall.

Dimanche also documents a common abuse practice in Florida where officers gas people confined to their cells. These practices have led to reported deaths. Dimanche calls one form of gassing “Black Jesus”: Guards lock someone an isolation cell and gas them through the porthole. The gas, he explains, “comes in a big black can and it’s known to make people scream for Jesus.”

Dimanche titled one of his pieces after this punishment by gassing, and depicts a guard gleefully spraying a hanging Dimanche.

‘Black Jesus’ is a searing critique of the ingrained racism of Florida’s prison system.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

“Black Jesus” also highlights the racism of Florida’s prisons, where an ACLU study found black people are subjected to more abuse. In 2017, two former Florida prison guards who were Klan members were convicted of plotting to murder an imprisoned black man.

Dimanche witnessed this racism firsthand. “I was in a couple of institutions where it was revealed where a lot of the correctional officers were Klansmen,” he said.

In “Black Jesus,” he portrays a man who is half dressed as an officer and half dressed in a Klan robe to symbolize, according to Dimanche, how each group uses force to “reinforce old Jim Crow ideas.”

A connection is made – and a bond forms

Eventually, another prisoner in solitary confinement put him in touch with Wendy Tatter, an artist living in St. Augustine, Florida. Tatter’s son had also spent time in Florida prisons, and Dimanche wrote to her asking if she’d be interested in seeing his art.

Tatter recalled to me Dimanche’s first letter – sent in September 2013 and written in a tiny font, so he could cram as much information as he could on the few sheets of paper available to him.

She agreed to see his work, and he started mailing her “these gorgeous original pencil drawings.”

She told me that each was made with a broken pencil and no eraser. They arrived “on just random pieces of paper that he managed to find” – on the backs of order sheets, Manila folders and old letters.

One of Dimanche’s drawings was made on the back of a canteen order form.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

The two wrote back and forth for three years until his release in 2016. Since then, he and Tatter have worked together to exhibit his work.

On Sept. 9 – the day that the national prison strike ends – Moliere and Tatter will host a program on mass incarceration and prison reform at the Corazon Cinema and Café in St. Augustine, Florida.

“Even though there’s a lot of talk about prison reform now, it’s bigger than sentencing guidelines,” Dimanche told me. “We have to address the physical abuse in prisons.”

Lack of transparency and access to prisons and detention centers makes this work extremely difficult.

Dimanche hopes that his art will open some eyes, and eventually end the American tradition of locking up, neglecting, exploiting and abusing millions in prisons across the country.The Conversation

Moliere Dimanche wears a T-shirt he designed using his prison art.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Associate Professor of American Studies, Rutgers University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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David Haines and the Black Mirror/Facing faces

Portrait of a Boy With Two Hearts (2015). Pencil on paper 113 x 140cm

David Haines and the Black Mirror

Now, this image of ourselves is obviously not ourselves, anymore than an idea of a tree is a tree, anymore than you can get wet in the word water.”

Alan Watts quoted in ‘Two Way Mirror,’  a two channel video installation by David Haines

Every new medium is a Russian doll.  The radio and the cinema sit inside every television, just as the television sits inside your smart phone.
Because there have been so many Russian dolls over the years, each containing the other, it’s easy to forget that the mirror is a medium, or that the simple act of making marks on paper is a technology. David Haines invites us to consider these things in the reflection of the black mirror. (1)

We carry the black mirror everywhere. It blindly reflects our image when it sleeps and every time we wake it up (with the swipe of a finger) it illuminates our desires. It sorts our personal chaos into order. The black mirror is a good servant. It files, classifies, orientates, and informs. In this respect the black mirror surpasses its master. Because the black mirror’s actions are unconscious, it is able to chart a map of the unconscious.

Casper With Gloves and Sneakers (2015). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 164 x 129 cm

In a group of portraits, images taken from a cam sex site, a series of young men look at themselves. The view is parallax, Narcissus is refracted. A man, his face in repose, gazes at the camera on his laptop. To see himself he must look away from the eye that records his image. We see a boss-eyed double image through the layers of mediation, the video and the shiny glass, the code churning unconsciously beneath the surface.

We never see ourselves, and when we see ourselves the image we see is not part of us. You might catch your image on the surface of a still pond. You may surprise your self as you lope past a shop window; your image may move unexpectedly on a Skype call; you may see your ghost on the black mirror of a sleeping smart phone. Our image is always mediated, always de-centered. Our image is reserved for others and implicitly addressed to others. Because the black mirror extends us and because it surrounds us we forget that, like every interactive technology, the black mirror is a technology of self. It records an image of us whilst simultaneously constructing us, presenting us, and teaching us how to behave.

Still Life with Flyer ( Sweat) 2017. Graphite and nero pencil on paper 27.5 x 36.5cm

Still Life with flyer( Fur- Real) 2017. Graphite and nero pencil on paper 29 x 38cm

A series of Trompe-l’œil drawings, Still Lifes with Flyers, are unlike Haines’ other portraits, they do not survey an interior, subjective, space. The bodies are on display, they project an image produced explicitly for others. But the medium on which the image is carried tells a specific history. It records the wear and tear of being folded, it tells the story of its circulation as a medium; this is in turn translated into a drawing.

Still Life with Screen, Cutout and Chicken Legs (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 56 x 50.5cm


Still Life with Screen, Cutouts and Heart (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 60 x 56cm

A further series of still life drawings, this time with  iPads, screens, cutouts, meat and bones takes this abstraction further. This is not a formal abstraction – in the sense that they divert from realistic depiction or break down into simple forms – but rather they invite us to read images of ‘real things’ on different registers: as things in ‘real space,’ as reflections of those things, as two dimensional cut-outs nested within a prospective three dimensional space.

Composition with Screen, Cutout, Hand and Plastic Bottle (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 39.5 x 38cm

Still Life with iPad, Cutout and Celeriac (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 33 x 33 cm

In the two large drawings Meatboy and Bob Starr  and Your Fluffer  the moiré pattern (the matrix of the printed image) slips between the register of dots and the register of an image. This is set against figures of a much finer definition where graphite and the grain of the paper tangle in a tight net of information. (2)

Meatboy and Bob Starr ( 2016). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 201 x 140 cm


Your Fluffer (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 205 x 184cm

As we travel through the different levels of abstraction the subject is mediated and remediated. Of course, the image is not the thing it depicts, any more than the menu can be mistaken for the meal, or the map mistaken for the territory it charts.

In Haines’ work every medium reflects another but this does not leave us abandoned in a hall of mirrors because we are grounded in the materiality of the drawings, we are drawn to the specificity of the medium – this particular sheet of paper, these specific particles of graphite.If every image draws us to a receding horizon, beyond which the ‘real thing’ is situated, in Haines’ work we comprehend the different levels of abstraction that allow us to negotiate with the reflection of ourselves that is always fugitive, always extensive: a projection, a reflection, an image in process.

Steve Rushton

Steve Rushton’s Masters of Reality is published by Stemberg Press

(1) Charlie Brooker on his TV show Black Mirror: “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects?” The Guardian 1/12/2011

(2) Here I use ‘abstraction’ in the sense Gregory Bateson’s used it in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1980). Bateson’s notion of abstraction provides the basis for a holistic aesthetic and ecological epistemology. Bateson identifies Alfred Korzybski as the originator of the phrase the map is not the territory.


Facing faces

David Haines, when I gaze at his works and, more often than not, covet them, remains a strange artist. There is really no point in going into his methods and techniques, into their enigmatic virtuosity and untiring capacity to present so much complex and, I guess, labour-intensive surface treatment as a true sight, or a bewildering delight. The relation between what must have been his absorption in the finding and then the making of the images and our oh-so rapid absorption of them and by them is unsettling in its asymmetry. It generates both turbulence and desire in turbulence, crafting each time a singular enigma of our own desiring.

Dylan’s Reflection (2017). Graphite on paper 16 x 17.5cm

But in these drawings of faces and torsos something new has appeared before us, befallen our look. Until now Haines work has presented a recognisable iconography, hermetic, secretive, as unyielding in its private use of the plethora of public images from the internet, their fragments or their apparent stories, as it was relentless in its extreme exploitation of what we trivially call representation or realism, alluring in the ways that it made precision itself into a near delirium. You could then think, at the same time, of the Signorelli of his Last Judgement or the arcane assemblage of a cabinet of curiosities;

Arnold’s Reflection (2017). Graphite on paper 18.5 x 20.5cm


But here the single figure or body or face, albeit adorned with textures and tattoos, comes to the fore to fill its space, to front it; and even as it does so it goes out of focus and blurs; the unsettled outlines behave like, but remain distinct from the smudgy backgrounds, and this blur itself outstares us as something other than the immediate presence of the ‘subject’. Now I think of another artist of the high Renaissance, of the uncanny and ever so slightly unfocussed figures of Dosso Dossi, sometimes conventional, sometimes hermetic, but ever withdrawing from view in the very substance of their presentness. With Haines, as with Dossi, there is a peculiar movement in which the image, even as it draws us to it and then stares us down, does so by staring down itself.

Dosso Dossi: Apollo, fragment

Circe, fragment.

In Haines’ new work precision is lavished on the indistinct. In defeating our gaze, in despite of its promise of a fleeting sexual encounter, the commodity of flesh so freely offered, the image does so through self-defeat, through the startling contradiction of seeing within the image its own precisely controlled desire for invisibility. And they, the whoever within, fragile enough, ripped from the half infinity of the electronic, at what now might they be looking?

Adrian Rifkin



David Haines forthcoming exhibition will be opening in Amsterdam on March 28 2020 at Upstream Gallery. Info here:


All images copyright and courtesy of David Haines

All images are made by Ger-Jan van Rooij

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Cosmic alchemy: Colliding neutron stars show us how the universe creates gold

Cosmic alchemy: Colliding neutron stars show us how the universe creates gold

Illustration of hot, dense, expanding cloud of debris stripped from the neutron stars just before they collided.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab, CC BY

Duncan Brown, Syracuse University and Edo Berger, Harvard University

For thousands of years, humans have searched for a way to turn matter into gold. Ancient alchemists considered this precious metal to be the highest form of matter. As human knowledge advanced, the mystical aspects of alchemy gave way to the sciences we know today. And yet, with all our advances in science and technology, the origin story of gold remained unknown. Until now.

Finally, scientists know how the universe makes gold. Using our most advanced telescopes and detectors, we’ve seen it created in the cosmic fire of the two colliding stars first detected by LIGO via the gravitational wave they emitted.

The electromagnetic radiation captured from GW170817 now confirms that elements heavier than iron are synthesized in the aftermath of neutron star collisions.
Jennifer Johnson/SDSS, CC BY

Origins of our elements

Scientists have been able to piece together where many of the elements of the periodic table come from. The Big Bang created hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant element. As stars shine, they fuse hydrogen into heavier elements like carbon and oxygen, the elements of life. In their dying years, stars create the common metals – aluminum and iron – and blast them out into space in different types of supernova explosions.

For decades, scientists have theorized that these stellar explosions also explained the origin of the heaviest and most rare elements, like gold. But they were missing a piece of the story. It hinges on the object left behind by the death of a massive star: a neutron star. Neutron stars pack one-and-a-half times the mass of the sun into a ball only 10 miles across. A teaspoon of material from their surface would weigh 10 million tons.

Many stars in the universe are in binary systems – two stars bound by gravity and orbiting around each other (think Luke’s home planet’s suns in “Star Wars”). A pair of massive stars might eventually end their lives as a pair of neutron stars. The neutron stars orbit each other for hundreds of millions of years. But Einstein says that their dance cannot last forever. Eventually, they must collide.

Massive collision, detected multiple ways

On the morning of August 17, 2017, a ripple in space passed through our planet. It was detected by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors. This cosmic disturbance came from a pair of city-sized neutron stars colliding at one third the speed of light. The energy of this collision surpassed any atom-smashing laboratory on Earth.

Hearing about the collision, astronomers around the world, including us, jumped into action. Telescopes large and small scanned the patch of sky where the gravitational waves came from. Twelve hours later, three telescopes caught sight of a brand new star – called a kilonova – in a galaxy called NGC 4993, about 130 million light years from Earth.

Astronomers had captured the light from the cosmic fire of the colliding neutron stars. It was time to point the world’s biggest and best telescopes toward the new star to see the visible and infrared light from the collision’s aftermath. In Chile, the Gemini telescope swerved its large 26-foot mirror to the kilonova. NASA steered the Hubble to the same location.

Movie of the visible light from the kilonova fading away in the galaxy NGC 4993, 130 million light years away from Earth.

Just like the embers of an intense campfire grow cold and dim, the afterglow of this cosmic fire quickly faded away. Within days the visible light faded away, leaving behind a warm infrared glow, which eventually disappeared as well.

Observing the universe forging gold

But in this fading light was encoded the answer to the age-old question of how gold is made.

Shine sunlight through a prism and you will see our sun’s spectrum – the colors of the rainbow spread from short wavelength blue light to long wavelength red light. This spectrum contains the fingerprints of the elements bound up and forged in the sun. Each element is marked by a unique fingerprint of lines in the spectrum, reflecting the different atomic structure.

The spectrum of the kilonova contained the fingerprints of the heaviest elements in the universe. Its light carried the telltale signature of the neutron-star material decaying into platinum, gold and other so-called “r-process” elements.

Visible and infrared spectrum of the kilonova. The broad peaks and valleys in the spectrum are the fingerprints of heavy element creation.
Matt Nicholl, CC BY

For the first time, humans had seen alchemy in action, the universe turning matter into gold. And not just a small amount: This one collision created at least 10 Earths’ worth of gold. You might be wearing some gold or platinum jewelry right now. Take a look at it. That metal was created in the atomic fire of a neutron star collision in our own galaxy billions of years ago – a collision just like the one seen on August 17.

And what of the gold produced in this collision? It will be blown out into the cosmos and mixed with dust and gas from its host galaxy. Perhaps one day it will form part of a new planet whose inhabitants will embark on a millennia-long quest to understand its origin.The Conversation

Duncan Brown, Professor of Physics, Syracuse University and Edo Berger, Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Mutatis Mutandis

Mutatis Mutandis

There are two forms of invariance, two ways in which something can persist in being amid the unceasing flight and flux of forms. There is that which is changeless, the cliff-face rigid and immutable against gale and tide, the frigid polestar-constancy of that which does not alter where it alteration finds. And there is that which, taking leave from itself, nevertheless is able to come back to itself. Unrelentingness: resilience. The one stands against and outside change, the other finds constancy in and through it. The rock that seems sternly to rebut the mutable; and then the boiling maelstrom that is never the same thing for one microsecond, but builds constancy through rotation, repetition. As Michel Serres has said, le dure ne dure pas; seul dure le doux – the hard does not endure, only softness survives. Hardness melts or is eroded, softness persists in being by yielding, by dying easily, like flies, like snow, giving way, expiring without a thought, like a breath, like a mist, like a thought. When the going gets tough, only the weak, giving way, going under, can last out. The condition of Annie Cattrell’s work is this oscillating condition of mutatis mutandis: the things that have been changed being in their turn changed.


Art is not the only way in which humans have battled against variation and inconstancy, though it is one of the emblematic ways, the way that affects to figure forth all efforts in general to instance the general, the unchanging.

Art long ago had to concede its claims to exactitude to what are sometimes, oddly and anachronistically, called the ‘hard sciences’. Exactness implies exaction, that is requirement, severity, coercion – exact being the past participle of Latin exagere, to drive out. Exactness is exigent, obdurate, hard to please. Exactitude used once to guarantee the authority of the absolute, of that which is exactly and precisely itself. To be exact always implies some correspondence, some exact fit between two measures or registers, between an original and a copy, an inside and an outside, a prescription and an action. But as exactitude increases, becoming ever more exacting, something unexpected happens. The closer one approaches to absolute exactitude, the more it recedes. No two measurements of a given phenomenon can ever be exactly the same, or only will be if those measurements are in fact inexact. No observation can take account of precisely all the positions and velocities of all the molecules in a given volume of gas. The only way to be exact is in fact to estimate statistically. To begin with, as certainty increases, variability declines, until that certain point at which it begins once again to increase. At very minute scales, exactness merges once again into approximation. Exactness begins by being hard and rigorous, but as it increases, it becomes ever more frail, and almost infinitely weak in its susceptibility to uncontrollable fluctuations. So what is called ‘art’ and what is called ‘science’ change places once again. Art, ethics, politics, can allow themselves to aspire to the absolute because they make fewer demands of exactitude on themselves. Science must nowadays earn its name through a precision that must expose the inevitability of fluctuation and the necessity of approximation. At its limits, finitude meets the infinitesimal.

Annie Cattrell’s works seem to be drawn towards this indeterminate zone where the exact and the fragile converge, at the point at the heart of every state of being at which there seems to be some tremor, some fading, flicker or deflection from itself. To be sure, her works are often characterised by a high-resolution, pinprick-sharp exactitude. They seem to offer the precision that we expect of perfectly-adjusted apparatus, in which form and function, appearance and effect, are locked tightly together, with neither residue nor deficit. The actions of casting and moulding are frequently employed or implied in her work, for example in the delicate bronze eggshell of From Within, which maps from the inside the delicate channels and filiations inscribed on the interior of the skull. The hard and the soft here  seem here to be brought into improbable association, the tough lustre of the bronze mingled with the buttery softness of an infant’s head. A cast seems like the ideal, absolute form of reproduction, in which some original form is induced to replicate itself exactly, without superfluity or omission, as though something could depart from itself while remaining itself, and 1+1 could magically still equal 1.  It is not surprising that the history of casting, seal-making and minting has such sacred associations, implying the divine power of self-divergence without diminution, of that which, like divine grace, or the head of the sovereign, can become many while never ceasing to be one.

But Annie Cattrell’s castings and rapid-prototype three-dimensional scans are so precise that they go beyond static exactitude to encompass variation. Depending on the light and angle of viewing, concavity and convexity change places in From Within, in a version of what is known as the Hollow Face illusion, which turns declivities into lines of relief. A similar passion of the surface is apparent in Currents, which is a rendering of some surface agitated by undulations, whether of a body of water pestered by a stiff breeze, or of the score of a complex piece of music, or the ripplings of a mountain range seen from above. The piece is not just a breathtakingly exact rendering of a natural process of fluctuation, it is itself a kind of fluctuation between possibilities. It seems struck off in and from a single moment, as though it were possible instantly to scan and cast all the infinite complexity of a single stretch of mild turbulence. But the prototype becomes protean – reminding us that the ungraspable Proteus derives his name from the fact that he was the first-born of the sea-god Poseidon. In the beginning, at the first, there was variation, the manying of the one.

Annie Cattrell’s drawings play variations on these processes of variation, the rippled striations of Pressure and the interlaced tendrils of Sustain instituting for example a shimmering quiver between plane and depth. Their titles hint at material processes, lifting, pouring, parting, rather than the forms of matter that effect them or that they affect. Annie Cattrell’s art not only attends closely to processes of variation within each piece of work, the works themselves enact variations across and between each other. The title of Process establishes an interchange between the alimentary process it figures and the process required to make it, as though it were in some sense figuring its own workings, a machine made to make itself.


As above, so below, writes Hermes Trismegistus in the Smaragdine Tablet, and continues,  in the translation of Isaac Newton, ‘to do the miracles of one only thing’. One might rotate this mystical formula (or turn it inside out), as many adherents of mystical doctrine have done, to assert likewise ‘as within, so without’, Much of Annie Cattrell’s work dwells in this logic of coincident contraries, in which the further inwards one goes, and especially into that interior of all interiors, the inside of the body, the more the forms seem to resemble the forms of the exterior world. Lungs, digestive system, cerebral tissue, bloom like clouds, and branch like coral-forests. Everywhere, there appears to be morphological rhyme: a brain swells like a mushroom, like a bomb burst, like a nebula, like the lacy fistulae of blood from a wound held underwater. Annie Cattrell’s collaborations, with neuroscientists, meteorologists and foresters, seem designed to limn these rhymings. And yet her forms seem to decline the unanimity of the ‘one only thing’, that mystical allergy to number, or to any number but one. The world of forms she patiently tracks is one that never quite becomes one or comes back to itself, in which the formative principle is endlessly branching and budding off.

Annie Cattrell is drawn and detained by secret, hidden, normally inaccessible spaces and forms, especially parts of the body which we not only rarely see, but of which can also form no real continuous conception. But these forms are not merely inward. They have the quality that Gilles Deleuze called ‘increscence’. They bloat and blister, but inwards as well as outwards, turning into, rolling over on themselves, delving inwards into the inner space they themselves scoop out. Where leaves and flowers seem to grow the very space they bud and branch out into, the bronchial and cerebral arborescences that draw Annie Cattrell’s eye and hand complexify space rather than rarefying it, multiplying it inwards. They brood and breed, they go on out in, curling, tucking in and doubling back on themselves even as they billow outwards.

The lungs that are figured in Capacity are an image of this astonishing involution. Small creatures, such as flies, do not have lungs, because they do not need them, their volume being small enough in relation to their outer surfaces to be able to absorb the oxygen they need directly from the air around them. But as creatures grow, their volume increases by the cube of their length, while their surface area increases by its square, so, the larger creatures grow, the greater their oxygen needs in proportion to their surface areas. For a creature the size of a human, or indeed for most creatures larger than Craseonycteris thonglongyai, or the bumblebee bat of Thailand, which weighs only a couple of grams, and is the smallest lung-breathing creature in the world, the only way to be able to absorb enough oxygen is in effect to turn themselves inside out, or outside in. They must, in the words of Marlowe’s Barabas, ‘enclose/Infinite riches in a little room’, approximating the effect of a large surface area within a very constrained space. This is achieved through millions of alveoli (Latin, ‘little alcoves’) which bud out from the end of capillaries to maximise the exposure of the blood to the tissues which extract oxygen from it. The human lung contains 700 million of these structures, the equivalent if opened out of a surface area of 70m2, or around the size of a tennis court. Capacity not only mimics the maximising of space through interior folding, it folds together time and space too; the work of countless hours is compressed into the image of a single inbreath, as though the work had spontaneously formed itself out of air made palpable and visible. We not only need room to breathe, it seems, but breathing also remakes space, burrows out room for itself.

Anne Cattrell’s works are a serenely seething contour map of prepositions, out, back, on, in, through, along, beside. Mystical materialists like Teilhard de Chardin have evoked a kind of awareness in introversion, as though an energy that turned towards itself rather than jetting out and away were all that were required for consciousness to stir, whether in the coiling of the molecule, or the slow wheelings of galaxies. But Anne Cattrell’s forms seem to have a kind of consciousness without self-consciousness. This is why there can sometimes seem to be a kind of fungal horror in this obese blooming, amid all its delicacy; we recoil from the blind, shoving nescience of what seems to teem without limit or plan, a becoming-other that wants to become everything and to go everywhere, making everything itself, making itself everything, yet without ever quite coming back to what it is.

Sense gives us sculptural reconstructions of the areas of the brain activated by the work of the five different senses. Where previous ages emblematised the senses with different animals – the monkey or the spider for touch, the lynx for sight – Annie Cattrell gives us a more abstract morphological bestiary, presenting each of the senses as though it were not just the animation of an idea, but also the idea of some kind of animal, flaring into intermittent being. The piece might seem to offer the same kind of reassurance that neuroscience can often seem to offer to the incautious, that there is an inner architecture that answers precisely and predictably to an outer, and that the ideas we have about ourselves – that we have precisely five senses, for example, and not four (as Aristotle thought), or as many psychologists would nowadays prefer to say, 9 – are verified point for point by what happens in the brain. But a sense is not the simple reflex in the brain of some equally simple cause in the world; it is the predisposition of a brain, acting, as brains always must, in complex concert with the body that it is both a part of and apart from, to make certain kinds of sense of the world. Few will now be surprised by the news that the brains of synaesthetes show more connectivity between different areas of the brain used to activate different sensory responses than non-synaesthetes. But the real question to ask may be why non-synaesthetes with no such immediate experience of, say, hearing colours or tasting shapes, can nevertheless can make perfect sense of such experiences in narrative or metaphor.

And where, one wonders, might coenesthesia – the powerful, yet oddly fluctuating sense of the mineness of my senses – have its seat? Responding to Descartes’s conviction that each of us have immediate and undoubtable access to what we must all infallibly recognise as a self, David Hume protests, with mischievous, magisterial coolness, ‘I am certain there is no such principle in me’. Where might that certainty reside, if not somewhere between the brain that formed these words and the words themselves? Does the idea of nowhere have a location? Where or what would be the ‘I’-ness that is so positive about its nonentity, so certain of its inaccessibility to itself? There can be no doubt that there must have been some kind of brain state at the moment at which David Hume inscribed these words, very likely one that would seem roundly to contradict his statement, and that there may be some kind of equivalence between equivalent brain states induced in various readers, including David Hume and me and you, reading these words at various times. But David Hume’s point is not that there is no such thing as perception, but that there is no such thing as ‘pure’ perception, or perception as such, since all perception is perception of something else.  What happens on the inside of brains is not a mere reaction to what happens to them, it is a construing of a relation to that exterior. The brain is constantly at work actively producing the forms of its responsiveness. It ceaselessly projects, from the inside, the kind of outside it takes there to be, just as it also constantly projects – for example in works like Sense – the kind of inside it takes itself to be, in relation to that outside.

Sense shows us what sensing neurologically is – seeing seems to have the form, for example, of a handkerchief suddenly ravelled by a gust of wind, or an egg splatted messily on a moving windscreen, while hearing is a pair of headphones or cauliflower ears. But we would be mistaken to see the sense regions as simple, invariant objects. As the brain functions modelled in a work such as Pleasure/Pain indicate, these apparent condensations of function are in fact the reified forms of connections, patterns of interchange between areas of the brain rather than sealed chambers. It is a stochastic silhouette formed by the possible thickening into the probable. It is the sculpting of a neurological conversation rather than a portrait of a single interlocutor, a telephone network rather than the profile of a speaking head.

And these connections ramify not only within but beyond the brain. As we look into and through the cool, translucent acrylic cubes of Sense in which these abstract sense-homunculi are suspended, we sense that there must be some kind of answering topology in our own perceptions, that our brains must be miming out some kind of anagram of what they are seeing. But this very action adds our perception to the series. Are we outside the series, as its observer, or an extension to it? Are we looking out of what we are looking in on? And when we see hearing, or tasting or smelling, what new neurological ravellings, what new forms of consensus, are being effected? Are we to read this sequence of shapes as primal engrams, the Platonic solids of sensing? Or do they form a sequence of variables, a meteorological phase space of feeling, contouring Dylan Thomas’s restless ‘process in the weather of the heart’?


As the title of the recent piece Conditions suggests, Anne Cattrell’s art exists in a world, (the world, there evidently being no other), of conditions. To say that some statement is true is to claim to define the conditions under which it will be true. To affirm that something exists is always also to assert the conditions under which its existence will be possible. Given certain conditions of existence, certain kinds of thing may exist. To say that something existed absolutely would be to say that no conditions exist or are conceivable under which it could not exist. And perhaps there are no such unconditional truths or existences. Everything is what it is only under certain conditions, certain forms of speaking or agreeing together, for, indeed, condition is from Latin condicere to speak together.  And that concordance is never complete, there are always at least two parties, the entity and its conditions, two halves to a compact that can never compact into simple unity. And, if things are what they are only under certain conditions, those conditions are never absolute or wholly and exactly specifiable, so there is never an exact fit between what something is and the conditions under which it comes to be that thing. All existence is, in this sense, as we say,  iffy, making the being of what is almost infinitely fragile, infinitely open to the shifting contingencies that alone permit or prohibit its being. This makes being both finite and fragile.

In the case of Conditions, there are many images of this conditional agreement. There are first of all the cloud-forms themselves, etched by the same kind of focussed laser that is used in some kinds of surgery to reach into the inaccessible heart of the brain and other areas of delicate tissue in the body. Our looking in on these forms is a similar kind of action-at-a-distance, the kind of optical tactility provoked by inviolable interiorities of the snow-globe or the ship in a bottle. The etched cloud-forms suggest that they may be variations on some primary form, a lexicon derivable from some degree-zero of in-itself vapour, prior to any deformation, swervings away from some elemental or archetypal or as-such state of cloud. This is in accord with our thinking about conditionality, in which there is a primary essence which is subject to this or that variation, this or that inflection in response to changing conditions. But there is no primary of ur-cloud, there are only states of cloud, translations without an original. Something can be what it is only on condition that it converses with that which it is not, with that which, as we may say, provides the conditions for the thing it is.

The transparent columns of Conditions enclose cloud-forms that are typical of (but never, of course, absolutely identified with or definitional of) particular times of the year: January’s clouds are low, dense and brooding, June’s cottony and clumped, July’s a hazy cirrocumulus. The angles of the glass columns splinter, refract and multiply the cloud-forms, creating commerce between the incommensurable orders of the edged and the edgeless. But the neat divisions between the columns and the prevailing conditions they signify are an illusion, for in reality the divisions between the cloud-forms characteristic of particular months are no more hard and fast than the divisions between clouds themselves and the clear air in which they are suspended.

All of Annie Cattrell’s work institutes a strange doubling whereby the material forms she represents seem to suggest the shapes of the thoughts we have about them, but none more so than the cerebral nebulae of Conditions. There is a long tradition which associates the intangible, ephemeral forms of clouds with the drifting play of thought itself. Clouds, like thoughts, are only there as long as they are there for us, and yet can be there only if they are over there, remote from us. Here, Annie Cattrell gives to thought a kind of impossible, imponderable materiality, giving us up to our own thought, and, returning our thinking to itself, the changed thing changed back, the fluctuating uncertainty of the exchange captured with tender, rapt exactitude.


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UMWELT at BioBat Art Space

Exhibition Statement (excerpt) by Hannah Star Rogers:

Umwelt a three-artist exhibition at BioBAT Art Space, takes the concept of collaboration to new heights and complications. It exposes the multilayered work of artists who engage with the sciences while offering visitors a nuanced view of what science both is and can be. Meredith Tromble, Patricia Olynyk, and Christine Davis are established artists who approach science as material for art. They have individually worked directly with scientists: as residents in their labs, as observers of scientific proceedings, as interviewers treating scientists as informants, and as direct co-creators of artworks. This collaborative presentation offers the opportunity to think about the different approaches that artists are taking to work with science in the new wave of art-science interactions and collaborations that is now well underway.

The complexities of science that these artists are investigating are reflected in the title of the exhibition. The concept of “umwelt,” as described in the semiotic theories of Jakob von Uexküll and interpreted by Thomas A. Sebeok (1976), is the world as it is experienced by a particular organism. As such, umwelt evokes more than environment; it emphasizes an organism’s ability to sense—a condition for the existence of shared signs. These signs offer meanings about the world, albeit of divergent sorts, to different types of organisms or even individual beings. Umwelt also calls attention to the specific senses that different organisms use to make meaning from their environments, including signs made by other organisms.”

“Umwelt’ 2019 – BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn, NYC. Featuring artworks by Christine Davis, Patricia Olynyk, Meredith Tromble. (Photo by: Beatriz Meseguer)


“Umwelt’ 2019 – BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn, NYC. Featuring artworks by Christine Davis, Patricia Olynyk, Meredith Tromble. (Photo by: Beatriz Meseguer)


“Umwelt’ 2019 – BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn, NYC. Featuring artworks by Christine Davis, Patricia Olynyk, Meredith Tromble. (Photo by: Beatriz Meseguer)


“Umwelt’ 2019 – BioBAT Art Space, Brooklyn, NYC. Featuring artworks by Christine Davis, Patricia Olynyk, Meredith Tromble. (Photo by: Beatriz Meseguer)


Artist Bios:

Christine Davis: Tlön, or How I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of our planet’s entire history , 2019
Ethically sourced butterfly wings on black gessoed canvas
48” x 70”

Christine Davis is a Canadian artist born in Vancouver. She currently lives and works in New York City. Modes of seeing, classifying and producing both scientific and cultural knowledge, often tied to the feminine and the natural world, underpin many projects. Through a cosmological impulse Davis’ installations seem to propose that meanings from disparate historical and pedagogical contexts overlap and are released slowly over long periods of time. In her work “Tlön, or How I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet’s entire history” (exhibited at the Musee de Beaux Arts de Montreal) documentation of the heavens and classification of wildlife are overlaid in a system of ordering and symmetry that is at once mystical and sadistic, absurd and universal. As film scholar Olivier Asselin notes, “Davis’ work establishes a link between artistic abstraction and scientific abstraction – between formal abstraction and conceptual abstraction. [F]orm is chaotic; it is one of those complex phenomena, like climate change and liquid turbulence, which are determinate, but non-linear, and, as a result, remain largely unpredictable. As such, it prompts an epistemological reflection on the complexity of the sensible and the limits of the concept… from this perspective, her work is archaeological.” Exhibiting since 1987 Her work is held in numerous collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Le Muse d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Collection Helga de Alvear and the Yvon Lambert Collection Avignon. Publications on her work include monographs published by CREDAC (Paris), MACM (Montreal), AGO (Toronto) and Presentation House (Vancouver).

Patricia Olynyk: Extension II , 2014
Digital pigment print on archival paper
22 ¼” x 61 ¼”

Patricia Olynyk is a multimedia artist, scholar and educator whose work explores art, science and technologyrelated themes that range from the mind-brain to interspecies communication and the environment. Her prints, photographs, and video installations investigate the ways in which social systems and institutional structures shape our understanding of science, human life, and the natural world. Working across disciplines to develop “third culture” projects, she frequently collaborates with scientists, humanists, and technology specialists. Her multimedia environments call upon the viewer to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit—whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them. Olynyk is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including a Helmut S. Stern Fellowship at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan and a Francis C. Wood Fellowship at the College of Physicians, Philadelphia. She has held residencies at UCLA’s Design Media Arts Department, the Banff Center for the Arts, Villa Montalvo in California, and the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. Her work has been featured in Venice Design 2018 at Palazzo Michiel, Venice; the Los Angeles International Biennial; the Saitama Modern Art Museum, Japan; Museo del Corso in Rome; and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. Olynyk is Chair of the Graduate School of Art and Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art at Washington University and co-director of the Leonardo/ISAST NY LASER program in New York. Her writing is featured in publications that include Public Journal, the Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, Technoetic Arts, and Leonardo Journal.

Meredith Tromble: Dream Vortex: Lab Meeting , 2019
Matrix of 9 framed digital prints
Each (framed) 20 x 23.5 inches. Overall dimensions: 62 x 72

Meredith Tromble is an Oakland-based intermedia artist and writer whose curiosity about links between imagination and knowledge led her to form collaborations with scientists in addition to making installations, drawings, and performances. A central theme in her work is circulation: between ideas and materials, through collaborative creative process, from psychological impulses through images and texts. Her work asserts the continuity between the physical and virtual worlds. She has made drawings, installations and performances for venues ranging from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Southern Exposure in San Francisco, to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. and the Glasgow School of Art in the UK. She has been artistin- residence at the Complexity Sciences Center at the University of California, Davis (UCD), since 2011 in active collaboration with UCD geobiologist Dawn Sumner. Their interactive 3-D digital art installation Dream Vortex has been widely presented in various iterations at ISEA2015, Vancouver, and Creativity & Cognition, Glasgow School of Art, and at more than a dozen American universities ranging from Stanford University in Palo Alto to Brown University in Providence. Dream Vortex was chosen as an “Exemplar Project” of interdisciplinary research by the Association for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) in 2015. A related performance project, The Vortex, in collaboration with Donna Sternberg and Dancers of Los Angeles, had weekend runs in Los Angeles in 2016 and 2018. Tromble’s other recent projects include an art installation developed with a neuroscientist at Gazzaley Lab, University of California San Francisco, and performance/lectures by “Madame Entropy.” Her 2012 blog “Art and Shadows,” on contemporary art and science, was supported by the Art Writers Initiative of the Andy Warhol Foundation. From 2000-2010 she was a core member of the artist collective Stretcher; and made flash “guerrilla” performances using a mechanism based on the research of biologist Larry Rome to generate electricity from the motion of her body.


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