Terra Firma: On Magic and the Reconstruction of Reality Beyond Nihilism –

The Gnostic Nihilist

Terra Firma: On Magic and the Reconstruction of Reality Beyond Nihilism

– A talk by Federico Campagna, Sunday, 23rd August 2-4 pm

Crises of imagination and of action are often traced back to all sorts of economic, political and cultural reasons. However, it is often the case that the roots of such crises stretch much deeper than that, down to a crisis of our understanding and perception of reality itself – and of our presence within it. A crisis of reality occurs when ‘everything becomes everything’ – as the anthropologist Ernesto de Martino puts it – and ‘nothingness emerges’.

When such radical nihilism emerges – paralysing all possible action and imagination, while relegating any attempt at struggling for emancipation to the realm of psychopathological phantasies – a reconstruction of reality itself becomes necessary before anything else returns to be possible. As de Martino claims, this is the work and the aim of magic. In this talk, I will claim that this is also the aim and work of philosophy, and the first step for the reconstruction of emancipatory politics in the present age.

Federico Campagna is a Sicilian philosopher based in London. His current work revolves mainly around the ontological and ethical challenges posed by contemporary nihilism, and the possibility of a fundamental philosophical architecture of emancipation. His latest book ‘The Last Night: antiwork, atheism, adventure’, was published by Zero Books in 2013. He has discussed his work at institutions such as Serpentine Gallery (London), Documenta 13 (Kassel), MACBA (Barcelona), Fabbrica del Vapore (Milan), and on publications such as The White Review, E.R.O.S. Journal, Anarchist Studies Journal, Adbusters, The New Humanist, The Guardian, Corriere della Sera, Alfabeta2. He currently works at Verso Books and is a PhD candidate in Design Interactions at the RCA, London.
George Moustakas is an artist and has also worked extensively as a theatre and production designer. Recent credits include ‘Recent work by Artists’ at Auto Italia South East, ‘Burmese Days’ at 59E59 Theatre in New York, ‘Auto Italia LIVE: Double Dip Concession’ at the ICA and the ‘The Southall Story’ part of the Alchemy Festival at the  Royal Festival Hall.  He is also managing with Nick Hartwright a non profit guardian company for artists called Art Guard.

Art Guard is a not-for-profit property guardianship scheme that directly supports Londoners working in the arts and is more beneficial to both the property itself and the local community than many of the existing schemes out there in London today. For more information check our website: www.artguard.org

We are currently in Haringey, right opposite Wood Green Station at 12-27 Station Road, N22 6UX.
Art/ Work Association (A/WA) is an association of artists and creative workers and a self-generated programme of talks, screenings, seminars, reading groups, workshops and critical feedback sessions, conceived as a forum for peer exchange. A/WA offers a support network for associates and enables self-organised learning, professional development and critical dialogue.

Terra Firma, an upcoming A/WA talk and discussion with Federico Campagna on Sunday, 23rd of August 2-4pm. The event will be introduced by George Moustakas.

Terra Firma will take place in Haringey (right opposite Wood Green Station at 12-27 Station Road, N22 6UX), in an Art Guard building, more info below.

Places are limited and allocated on a first come first serve basis, drop me a line if you’d like to attend and / or bring any friends!



Auto Italia 


Marleen Boschen




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Visual Echo: A Study of Objects & Bodies In Motion


Image: Gif from Choros, Directed by Michael Langan and Terah Maher
with music by Steve Reich. Choros pursues the proposition − beyond filming the dance − of filming the music itself, through the transformation of the body, object or gesture into sound, into instrument.

Photography is an art and science which was invented and developed beginning in the 1830s. Initially, it was used as a documentation device – for portraiture, historical moments, battles in war, and so on. With how rapidly the technological and artistic world began to develop, new uses and ideas for the camera also began to develop. With the invention of the camera, art no longer necessarily had to capture life. The camera became the dominant source of accurate depiction of life. As the technology became more sophisticated, so did the activities for which people needed cameras.


An example of chronophotography. Woman Walking Down Stairs, late 19th century. Photographed by Eadweard Muybridge

As early as the 1860s, a few photographers were making “moving pictures” by taking photographs of a subject in a series of poses simulating phases of motion, then using various devices to display them one after the other in rapid succession. This stop-motion photography technique was necessary because the photographic materials available at that time were not sensitive enough to permit the very short exposures needed to photograph subjects that were actually moving. Improvements in the sensitivity of photographic emulsions eventually made true real-time chronophotography possible.

In the late nineteenth century, a photographic technique called chronophotography began to develop, whereby multiple photographs would be taken in rapid succession to study the movement of a given subject. Eadweard Muybridge famously filmed a horse in motion in 1878, providing the world with its first taste of motion pictures when the images were displayed on a spinning zoetrope. In 1872, Leland Stanford, former governor of California and horse enthusiast, hired Eadweard Muybridge to provide photographic proof that at some instants a galloping horse has all four hooves off the ground. Muybridge lined part of a racecourse with a row of cameras that had shutters connected to a series of tripwires, then photographed a horse against a white background as it galloped past. One of the resulting silhouette photographs provided the desired proof. Later in the decade, with the benefit of more sensitive photographic plates, he obtained greatly improved results. Muybridge also arranged such sequences of photographs in order around the inner surface of a zoetrope; when the drum-like device was set spinning, an observer looking through its slots saw an animated image. The images of the horse caused astonishment to the public, as no one had seen such precise documentation of the movement of the animal. Muybridge was subsequently commissioned to photograph a variety of other moving subjects.

  1. ChronophotographyStevePippin

Steven Pippin‘s  photographs from his series Laundromat-Locomotion. Tate Gallery, Turner Prize finalists in 1999, Pippin converted a row of 12 washing machines in a launderette into a camera, taking photos through the glass door in the front, and using the assorted wash mechanisms to develop them.

Several years later, the French physicist Etienne-Jules Marey developed a stunning variation of this technique when he captured multiple poses of a subject over time onto a single frame of film, rendering a kind of visual echo. The nature of this process limited the subject matter to that which could be photographed in a black studio using stark lighting, to prevent overexposure of the background when multiple images are layered over one another.

In 1968, just six years before Steve Reich began composing “Music for 18 Musicians,” Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren adapted Marey’s layering technique to actual motion pictures, in a groundbreaking film entitled “Pas de Deux.” The additive nature of multiple exposures in chemically processed photography, however, likewise limited McLaren to the confines of a black box studio with high-contrast side lighting.

“Choros” is an experimental film steeped in tradition, modernizing “chronophotography” a visual echo technique developed for scientific study in the 1880s. Spellbinding and uplifting, Choros is a reminder that dance, music, and indeed, cinema can sometimes transcend words altogether.

The film”Choros” revisits these technical innovations and attempts to contribute original innovations of its own. Directed by Michael Langan and Terah Maher with music by Steve Reich, a chorus of women are borne from the movements of a single dancer in this dreamlike “pas de trente-deux.””Choros” premiered at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 2012 and has gone on to play dozens of festivals worldwide. The film is currently broadcast in Europe by Canal+

Using recent advancements in digital compositing, the technique developed for “Choros” introduces color, frees the film from the confines of a black studio, and allows the dancer to linger in one position without risk of overexposure, resulting in a variation of this historical technique that allows a degree of subtlety heretofore prohibited by technical limitations.

Chronophotography’s original purpose was to help scientists study objects in motion, primarily humans and animals. It was also used for practical purposes, such as judging timed events and recording historical ones (horse and dog races, performances) and studying the movement of projectiles for war. With Anschutz’s development of non-scientific, entertaining chronophotographs, chronophotography became the basis for the invention and development of cinematography.


From chronophotographic developments, cinematography and silent film of moving images were invented. In the work Blitz, contemporary digital artist Tom Estes reverses this process turning film back into photographyBlitz, depicts an individual being thrown through the air by a lightning bolt. Even the medium itself, a series of photographs, suggests speed, as a recording of ‘live’ split second action’. Estes’ slapstick comedy is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer.

Due to the development of projection devices, (the zoetrope, Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, Anschutz’selectrotachyscope, and ultimately, Albert Londe’s high-speed multi-exposure camera which ran film through a projector in a new way), the display of chronophotographs as entertainment became more sophisticated and useful than ever before. Before long, cinematic devices spawned from original chronophotographic predecessors, with which audiences could watch continuous loops of entertaining activities (for example, the “peep show” devices built using Thomas Edison’s backlighting technology which showed mildly smutty films). From these developments in history, cinematography and silent film of moving images were invented.




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Jorge Luis Borges’s infinite ‘Library of Babel’ has been digitized


Annunciation by contemporary artist Tom Estes

In this day and age you can order anything online and receive it in two days or less.  You can start a new book with a simple click. Libraries have always had a special place in the hearts of bibliophiles –  from comfy chairs to shelves and stacks of Shakespeare, Hemingway and Tolstoy. In the scramble to gain market share in cyberspace, something is getting lost: the public interest in Libraries. Buckling under economic pressure, information they diffuse is being diverted away from the physical sphere, where it can do most good. But there are some things you can’t take away from the old days of reading. You can’t replicate those old and new book smells that penetrate the air of a physical book store or library.  Remember when you could browse for your next book without an algorithm doing it for you?

Imagine a labyrinthian library containing all possible written works—even the configurations of letters, words and sentences that don’t make any sense. First described by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges in his iconic 1941 short story The Library of Babel, that fantasy of an infinite space for language has inspired everything from Umberto Eco’s debut novel to an interactive Burning Man installation.

Today, the Library of Babel is also a web project. In theory, at least, the digital Library of Babel recreates Borges’ vision, perfectly embodying the tension of both a limited infinity, and an orderly realm of nonsense. Since the project’s inception, responses have ranged from general delight—one forum comment likens stumbling upon the library to going out for milk and seeing a dinosaur—to deep mathematical investigations on this Reddit thread to comprehend the monumental scale of the library.

The theory of language implicit in Borges’s “The Library of Babel” describes a universal library containing, in 410-page volumes every possible permutation of twenty-two letters, spaces, commas, and periods—every book that’s ever been written and every book that ever could be, drowned out by endless pages of gibberish. Its librarians are addicted to the search for certain master texts, the complete catalog of the library, or the future history of one’s own life, but their quest inevitably ends in failure, despair, even suicide.


Overlords by artist Tom Estes

Though the story’s librarian-narrator believes in the possible triumph of reason, the principle force underlying the library is irrationality. Any expression, even the most elegant or undeniably true, is nonetheless possible without sincerity, or even any intention towards signification. The library makes this hidden power explicit: anything that can be referenced in language or accessible to experience must be separable from itself—a thought, a perception, a word can be made of it. This may undermine our sense of the simple presence of things, but it allows for everything interesting in the world: fantasy, lies, illusions, imagination, and fiction. If it weren’t possible for us to say “Here is a human” when nothing of the sort is present, fiction would be impossible, and we would never have embarked on the strange pursuit that, for some time now, we have called literature. Borges’s story isn’t simply one among others, but the story of all fiction, and with it all reality.

Though its underlying theory of language is powerful and undeniable, there are strange inaccuracies elsewhere in the library. The librarians in the story, for instance, encounter far more rational text than would ever be possible in a truly random universal library. Merely in the hexagons under his administration, our narrator recounts volumes with the titles Combed Thunder and The Plaster Cramp. Even some of the incoherent texts in the story, such as one where the letters “MCV” repeat “perversely” for 410 pages, are statistically impossible for mere mortals to encounter.

The most important of the librarians’ discoveries is another imposibility, a work with two pages in a “Samoyed-Lithuanian dialect of Guaraní with inflections from classical Arabic” containing the rudiments of combinatory analysis. Borges notes, with his usual strange humor, that it’s “illustrated with examples of endlessly repeating variations.” One could understand every volume in the library as such an illustration—an appendix to this manual on permutation and combination. The entire library fits inside a single one of its books, like the master catalog the librarians seek or the algorithm that produces the online version of the library, a few lines of code that can also be found inside its volumes.

TemptationImage: The Temptation of Christ by Tom Estes

The librarians’ entire universe-as-library theory grows from this discovery. The library contains all possible text, and thus offers the promise of revelation that motivates their search through its volumes. I doubt Borges was being naive when he placed these impossibly rare texts in his story. Rather, he played the role of a trickster god, seeding his creation with just enough meaningful and poetic text to entice both his story’s librarians and its readers. That its only possible result is disappointment and despair is part of his dark humor, and a fate he laments along with us.

His narrator, on the other hand, seduced by Borges’s trickery, has no sense of the true scale of the library, a barrier I continually encountered when trying to re-create it. Whether the library contains all possible permutations of letters, contains not a single repetition, or cycles through every possibility before repeating are unknowable. No one will ever encounter any duplicate books in a universal library. The entirety of human endeavor is insufficient to make it statistically possible.

Jonathan Basile the fiction writer and computer programmere created the online universal library and universal image archive states in an article for Paris Review:

“Many visitors to the Web site share this desire to reduce its volume to a human scale. Borges’s narrator tells of the Purifiers, librarians who burned texts without identifiable words out of a ‘holy zeal’ to reach books “omnipotent, illustrated, and magical. When libraryofbabel.info’s visitors suggest marking or eliminating ‘uninteresting’ or ‘meaningless’ texts, I remind them of the narrator’s two responses:

One, that the Library is so huge that any reduction by human hands must be infinitesimal. And two, that each book is unique and irreplaceable, but (since the Library is total) there are always several hundred thousand [31,488,000, actually] imperfect facsimiles—books that differ by no more than a single letter, or a comma.

There is another improbable text the librarian-narrator has come across in his travels, one written by Borges himself, from an essay titled “The Total Library.” It was Borges’s first reflection on the theme of the universal library, published two years before his short story. The excerpt, well known to the librarians, claims that confusion and irrationality overwhelm the possibility of rationality in the library. Our narrator condemns these words as impious, tasteless, and ignorant. His counterargument is quite beautiful, and equally relevant when considering the “ascetic rage” of the Purifiers:

There is no combination of characters one can make—dhcmrlchtdj, for example—that the divine Library has not foreseen and that in one or more of its secret tongues does not hide a terrible significance. There is no syllable one can speak that is not filled with tenderness and terror, that is not, in one of those languages, the mighty name of a god.

There is no such thing as meaninglessness, in other words, and not a single volume or even a single line of text worthy of condemnation in the near-infinite library. According to the theory of language with which we began, a speaker’s intentions can never secure a univocal meaning for his utterance: the possibility for those same signs to appear in new contexts, animated by different intentions or none at all, is as limitless as the library itself. The result is not that language loses all meaning but that it constantly gains more, as even the unprecedented combinations of its atoms, the letters, wait patiently for the discovery or invention of the language in which they will be the names of new gods.

“When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges in his classic of philosophical fiction, “The Library of Babel.” One of the most revered stories-as-thought-experiments ever committed to print, Borges’ fiction posits the Universe as a library (“composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”) that contains every possible text. This intellectual vision, at once playful and poised, has stirred authors (like Umberto Eco and Terry Pratchett) and philosophers (W.V.O. Quine and Daniel Dennett) alike for more than 75 years

“The Library of Babel is a place for scholars to do research, for artists and writers to seek inspiration, for anyone with curiosity or a sense of humor to reflect on the weirdness of existence,” writes creator and DC-based coder Jonathan Basile on the website’s About page. “In short, it’s just like any other library.”

Except it isn’t. Drawing from its namesake, the site contains every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including the lowercase letters, space, comma, and period. In other words, everything that could ever be written, including every masterpiece, joke, and chat conversation.

How does it work? The digital library has 29 possible characters (26 letters, space period, and comma) that are each randomly assigned to the 3,200 spaces on a page. The site uses a pseudorandom generator whose algorithm allows you to browse randomly-generated books and pages by creating them on the spot as you click-navigate through different floors and shelves. Or, you can enter a string of text—be it a song lyric or Bible verse—and the library will find it for you, mixed in with apparent gibberish.

“If you tried to read through all the books, the sun would expand into its red giant phase and engulf the earth before you finished,” claims Basile. “This is expected to happen in about five-and-a-half billion years, long before you could ever read through all the books.”

But with Babel comes babble. The problem of the virtual library is the same as the library of Borges’ imagination: There’s simply so many permutations of text that the probability of finding rational letters by simply browsing is exceedingly rare. “It’s just a statistical impossibility,” says Basile. “You’d actually have a better chance of quantum-tunnelling(or disappearing and reappearing) through a wall.”

These different modes of discovery highlight a key element of both Borges’ story and the websites, which is the paradox of desiring both the familiar and the novel. If you opt to use the library’s search function, note that you can only find an image you already have seen and know to look for, whether it’s a photo of the world’s oldest woman or a selfie from your last vacation. It may be easy to read the randomly generated images as visual white noise, but the project highlights the fact that even these have potential for meaning—in the past or the future.

“There’s really no such thing as meaninglessness,” says Basile. ”Any random-seeming group of letters or pixels could signify a powerful god in some language we don’t know or some language that hasn’t been created yet.”

Enter the Library of Babel and the Babel Image Archives to begin browsing.

Follow Joyce on Instagram at @joyceslee. We welcome your comments atideas@qz.com.

Source: http://qz.com/446122/jorge-luis-borgess-library-of-babel-has-been-digitized-enjoy/



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Arnold Schwarzenegger: Climate Change Is Not Science Fiction


Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, chair of the Elders group of former world leaders, echoed a phrase attributed to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev talking about nuclear war in 1979, saying “climate change would leave the living envying the dead”.

Ever since the first cheesy monster or goofy robot leered out from the cover of a pulpy magazine, science fiction has struggled to shake off a certain tinge of campiness. No matter how hard creators may try to tell frightening stories, that slightly ironic silliness is always lurking just outside the frame. There will always be science fiction which takes those little hints of camp and amplifies them a million-fold. A little campiness is fun to giggle at, but frightening threats to the future of our planet are nothing not scoff at. However, Science Fiction has  also long served as a useful vehicle for “safely” discussing controversial topical issues and often providing thoughtful social commentary on potential unforeseen future issues.

In a recent statement Arnold Schwarzenegger – the Terminator star and former California governor declared the science debate over, saying planetary catastrophe could only be avoided with ethical action. Schwarzenegger  has been chosen by the French government to join Nobel prizewinners, philosophers, UN secretary generals, spiritual leaders and theologians to make the moral case for the world to act urgently on climate change.

Talking at the world’s first summit of conscience for the climate on Tuesday – ahead of the crucial UN climate change meeting in the city in December:

“I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and, let me tell you something, climate change is not science fiction, this is a battle in the real world, it is impacting us right now.

“I believe the science is in. The debate is over and the time for action is now,” he told an invited audience of intellectuals and spiritual leaders from all faiths. “This is bigger than any movie, this is the challenge of our time. And it is our responsibility to leave this world a better place than we found it, but right now we are failing future generations.”

“This year alone we will dump 40bn tonnes of carbon emissions into our atmosphere. The World Health Organization says that air pollution causes over 7 million premature deaths every year and all over the world we can see flooding, monster storms, droughts and wild-fires that are completely out of control.”

The meeting, called by French president François Hollande ahead of the Paris political summit, was intended to put pressure on governments to act by mobilising millions of people to declare publicly that they “cared” for earth.

“If action is not taken immediately my grandson will live in a world suffering heat waves, severe droughts and floods. Cities like new York and Venice will drown. We are on the brink of catastrophe but the solution to the climate crisis cannot be left to governments alone … People are taking the lead and demanding change. We must not fail them.”


SWAMPY: AT THE FLOODGATES for IM INTERNATIONAL by artist Tom Estes presented by CREATIVE TIME in association with THE QUEENS MUSEUM OF ART. 

Heaven knows how deeply rooted cynicism is today in our culture. We are bombarded by negatives at every turn. However an artist who can effectively use humor to engage and entertain their audience possesses a valuable gift.  They will be appreciated for providing heartfelt laughter; laughter that has therapeutic effects on listeners. And what they have to say will be remembered.

Humor plays a trick on the mind, painting a picture which is ludicrous or incongruous. Through the Live Art Performance ‘Swampy: At The Floodgates, artist Tom Estes attempts to perform a delicate balancing act of two ways of thinking; of the dualism of nature as a destructive force and as a force of renewal. This performance plays on both our irrational denial of Climate Change as well as our fears of being over-run or ‘flooded’ by immigrants. The performance took place at The Thames Barrier, built to prevent the floodplain of all but the easternmost boroughs of Greater London from being flooded by exceptionally high tides and storm surges moving up from the North Sea.

London is vulnerable to flooding and from heavy tides closing in. A storm surge generated by low pressure in the Atlantic Ocean sometimes tracks eastwards past the north of Scotland and may then be driven into the shallow waters of the North Sea. The surge tide is funnelled down the North Sea which narrows towards the English Channel and the Thames Estuary. If the storm surge coincides with a spring tide, dangerously high water levels can occur in the Thames Estuary.


Built across a 520-metre (570 yd) wide stretch of the river, the barrier divides the river into four 61-metre (200 ft) and two, approximately 30 metre (100 ft) navigable spans. There are also four smaller non-navigable channels between nine concrete piers and two abutments.

The threat has increased over time due to the slow but continuous rise in high water levels over the centuries (20 cm (8 inches) per century) and the slow “tilting” of Britain (up in the north and west, and down in the south and east by up to 5 cm (2 inches) per century) caused by post-glacial rebound.

In the 1928 Thames flood, 14 people died. After 300 people died in the UK in the North Sea flood of 1953, the issue gained new prominence. Early proposals for a flood control system were stymied by the need for a large opening in the barrier to allow for vessels from the London docks to pass through. When containerization replaced older forms of shipping and Tilbury was expanded, a smaller barrier became feasible with each of the four main navigation spans being the same width as the opening of Tower Bridge.

Estes’ performance Swampy is “a painful thing told playfully” and a “tragedy separated by time and space”. Note that both definitions treat humor as a serious thought viewed in a light manner. Ever heard someone say, “I laughed so hard I nearly cried”? Humor deals with serious subjects and is close to pathos: an emotion of sympathetic pity. Think about the old gag of someone slipping on a banana peel. Such an accident usually elicits a laugh. We might giggle or snicker when someone else takes a flyer. Perhaps though not when we ourselves are the victim. The laugh would be stopped mid-snort though if the person was hurt in the fall. Why? Because the playful element has been lost. Buster Keaton does a pratfall. Down he goes, but he must get up.

Of course Global Warming is a very serious subject. Irish president Michael Higgins has called for moral courage. “Our current malaise is grounded in a cynicism we must confront. We need to confront the cult of the individual and insatiable consumption and replace it with a new thinking. We must reconcile science with ethics.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, Ghanaian president of the Vatican’s Pontifical council for justice and peace, who helped Pope Francis write the encyclical on human ecology published last month, said that the climate is a common good. “It is a global common meant for all but the costs are being borne by those who have least contributed to it.

“At stake now is the wellbeing of the earth, our common hope. What we need is care. When we care for something it is with passion and comitment of the heart. That’s why Pope Francis called for care of the earth. A sense of passion is needed.”


Operational since 1982, The Thames Barrier is located downstream of central London. The concept of the rotating gates was devised by (Reginald) Charles Draper in the 1950s. 

Muslim theologians, Christians and Hindus said they saw climate change both as an existential threat and as an opportunity for renewal. Sheikh Bentounes, leader of the Sufi brotherhood Alawiya, urged mankind to carry “a hope of a future”.

“The prophet Mohammed called on man to plant and sow seeds. He said ‘Even at the end of times continue to plant and sow.’ We have responsibility to carry this hope to the end. This tiny vessel in infinite space that we call earth is unique.”

Daoists, Confucians, shamans, Jesuits, Bhuddists and others called for politicians to act on behalf of humankind at Paris. Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, despaired at humanity’s blindness, but quoted writer Fyodor Dostoevsky saying that “beauty would save the earth”.

“Scientists and theologians agree that humanity depends on nature. We must accept the moral imperative for action. Religion must also be involved in the crucial question of climate change”, said Bartholomew.

David Rosen, director of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said: “Climate change takes place where there is unbridled avarice. It is a symptom of the disease and cry for us to respond. It is the opportunity for humans to rediscover the higher values than materialism and indulgence.”

Hindu leader Nandita Krishna, who has restored 50 sacred forests, feared that insatiable greed had gripped everyone on earth and this had led to climate change. “We cannot replicate the environment or create it. Unless we see the divine in creation we will not understand our role and duty as humans,” she said.

Nobel prizewinning economist Mohemed Yunus, founder of the Grameen bank in Bangladesh, said technology could help achieve zero poverty and zero carbon emissions . “[But] technology today is in the hands of the money makers and the war-makers. They are not directing it to solve the problems of the world.”

It was left to 86-year-old Benin writer and politician Albert Teveodjré to represent the views of secular thinkers. “Nature was loaned to us as a place to live. I witness a world of profit at all costs which will ruin the envronment and devastate everything. I am very worried. I think I will leave the world with many worries.”

And yet it is probably the man who played the role of ‘The Terminator’ that will be etched into our minds. And perhaps Estes’, goofy sea creature standing solo at the Thames Barrier.


Estes first staged this performance as Swampy: Venice is Flooded as part of ‘Bizzare Artist Happenings’ with The Biennial Project  (as featured by Tate Shots at The 54th  Venice Bienniale) 

source:  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/21/arnold-schwarzenegger-climate-change-is-not-science-fiction?CMP=share_btn_tw

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Imaginary Cities


I’m sure I’m like most of you when I say Saturday mornings as a child were made up of animated shorts of an imaginary futurescapes like the Jetsons. However Imaginary Cities need not simply exist in fiction or the mind. Each city dreamt up by artists, writers, architects and lunatics has a real-life equivalent.  Or as put by Francis Bacon- “They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.” 

Disney’s  release of the film Tomorrowland (2015), is an exciting look at the possibilities of the future and the necessity for determination, dedication and optimism to achieve it. The film stars Academy Award winner George Clooney as a disillusioned former boy-genius who tries to save humanity from itself- with the help of a teenage, NASA-nerd anarchist. Casey (Britt Robertson) is a dreamer with a capital D. While her teachers bemoan the cataclysmic shape of world events and instability, she doggedly raises her hand to ask, “Yeah, but what can we do to fix it?”With Athena the android replacing Clarence the angel, it’s an ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the 21st century. Tomorrowland boasts a wealth of sumptuous visuals: a shiny and vintage 1960s Disney World, and a bright and gleaming futuristic metropolis. But crafting movies around theme park rides is a rather risky creative proposition. For every Pirates of the Caribbean mega-franchise, there’s a Haunted Mansion. Theme park rides are more locations then they are stories, so it’s an adaptation where there’s nothing really to adapt except for a setting starting point.

SpaceGhostsAn in-depth look at the metropolis of the imagination, as well as being a work of creative nonfiction is the book, Imaginary Cities. Inspired by the surreal accounts of the explorer and ‘man of a million lies’ Marco Polo, it charts the metropolis and the imagination, and the symbiosis therein. The book roams through space, time and possibility, mapping cities of sound, melancholia and the afterlife, where time runs backwards or which float among the clouds. In doing so, Imaginary Cities seeks to move beyond the clichés of psychogeography and hauntology, to not simply revisit the urban past, or our relationship with it, but to invade and reinvent it. 

Following in the lineage of Borges, Calvino, Chris Marker and Kenneth White, the book examines the city from global macrocosm to the microcosm of its inhabitants’ perspectives. It proceeds through opium dreams, sea voyages, the hallucinations of prisoners, nocturnal decadence, impossible Soviet skyscrapers, marauding golems, subterranean civilisations, apocalyptic prophecies and the work of architectural visionaries such as Antonio Sant’Elia, Archigram and Buckminster Fuller. It rethinks the ideas of utopias and dystopias, urban exploration, alienation and resistance. It claims that the Situationists lacked ambition when they suggested, “Beneath the paving stones, the beach.” Instead, beneath the paving stones, we may just be able to discern the entire universe.


Artist Tom Estes, Honorary Mayor of DEN-City ( a imaginary Utopian artist city built from rubbish) cuts the ribbon an the opening ceremony. 

Recently it has become fashionable to talk about the “urban commons”, and it’s clear why. What we traditionally conceive of as “the public” is in retreat: public services are at the mercy of austerity policies, public housing is being sold off and public space is increasingly no such thing. In a relentlessly neoliberal climate, the commons seems to offer an alternative to the battle between public and private. The idea of land or services that are commonly owned and managed speaks to a 21st-century sensibility of, to use some jargon, participative citizenship and peer-to-peer production. In theory, at least, the commons is full of radical potential. Can commoning be scaled up to influence the workings of a metropolis – able to tackle questions of housing, energy use, food distribution and clean air? In other words, can the city be reimagined as commons, or is commoning the realm of tiny acts of autarchy and resistance?

The current popularity of the commons as an idea is partially driven by the internet and the fact that network tools make it so much more feasible for larger groups to self-organise. Open-source software, Wikipedia, the creative commons and social media make commoning possible while affirming the ethos of horizontal organisation. Darran Anderson, the author of Imaginary Cities says:

“While it’s amazing to have information that far surpasses the Library of Alexandria online—a dream that’s haunted writers for centuries— in terms of interacting, there’s nothing online that wasn’t foreseen and described by Aristophanes or Plato thousands of years ago. You talk to people who restore your faith in humanity and then seconds later you talk to foul-tempered, frothing pedants who insist that a building you posted made entirely out of clouds couldn’t possibly be built and demand you defend imaginary buildings you haven’t designed. The mediums change but the humans remain, for better and worse.”

Unable to convince the ruling council of Krypton that their world will destroy itself soon, scientist Jor-El takes drastic measures to preserve the Kryptonian race. With a nod to Climate Change Denial for his role as Honorary Mayor of DEN-City Artist Tom Estes takes on the role of Jor-EL from the 1978 film Superman. 

England has a particular history of commoning that is still written into the fabric of London. Wimbledon, Clapham, Ealing – they all have commons, where our forebears once had the right to graze their livestock. But the enclosures of the 18th century transferred the majority of common land into private hands, turning it into a marketable resource and creating a landless working class. And the problem of the commons today is that we still tend to think of it as a common resource, whether it be oceans and rivers or fish stocks.

DenCity1Imaginary Cities demonstrates that each city dreamt up by artists, writers, architects and lunatics has a real-life equivalent and that the great Marco Polo was no liar. Imaginary Cities need not simply exist in fiction or the mind. DEN-City1 was a temporary city opening at the end of june in London. Curator of DEN-City1 Rebecca Feiner says: “The name is inspired by the overcrowded and precarious conditions many Londoners now live in… how space to be creative in has become increasingly scarce. “It also reflects the nomadic existence forced on people in the rent sector… and in Hackney Wick’s case how artists are being driven out by the ferocious profit-driven appetite of developers.” She also sees a “contradiction and tension” when artists have been “making over” an area not previously seen as attractive, “bringing colour and creativity”, then being moved on.

However, if this all seems a bit too grim, gritty and earnest for you, Feiner has invited international artist Tom Estes to act as Honorary Mayor of DEN-City1. Estes describes himself as a “Sci-fi inspired Carnival Sideshow Conceptualist, combining a bare-bones formal conceptualism with an eternally adolescent, DIY comic-prank approach”. For Estes “fantasy and illusion are not a contradiction of reality, but instead an integral part of our everyday lives”. And fresh back from a Residency during the prestigious Venice Biennale,  rumor has it that he is planning a Ferrero Roche inspired Ambassadors Reception for the opening nightof DEN-City1 .


DEN-City Honorary Mayor Tom Estes with Rubbish Bride. On from 26- 29 June 2015  DEN-City, part of the London Festival of Architecture, Supported by the Arts and Humaniteis Research Council (as part of their Connected Communites Festival) Middlesex University and the research project ‘Hydrocitizenship’

The question is whether the commons, with its potent political dimension, can transcend extreme need and symbolic resistance on the one hand and harmless local initiatives on the other. In fact, it is often in moments of crisis that the idea of commons asserts itself. The protest movements that took over Tahrir Square in Cairo, Gezi Park in Istanbul and Zuccotti Park in New York transformed public space – state-owned, with the exception of Zuccotti – into a temporary commons through mass self-organisation. Similarly, the economic crisis in Greece has led to a resurgence of commoning in Athens, where parks neglected by the municipality started to be maintained by resident groups. And one could cite numerous examples of commoning in the favelas of Brazil, where many communities take pride in co-creating and self-managing their environment.

Jettsonsride And there are other encouraging examples. One commons project that is beginning to achieve an ambitious scale and complexity is in Colombes, in the suburbs of Paris. Since 2012, the Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée has been developing what its co-director, Doina Petrescou, calls “a bottom-up strategy of resilient regeneration” – and it goes beyond your average urban agriculture initiative. It’s true that there is a micro-farm for collective use but that is only one of three hubs, the others being a mini recycling plant and cooperative eco-housing.

The project now has 400 citizens co-managing 5000 square metres of land, producing food, energy and housing, while actively reducing waste and water usage. Already, by European standards, it is a fairly large-scale experiment in alternative urban living. But the aim is to add five more hubs over the next five years and to grow into a commons-based civic movement.


DEN-City1 was a temporary utopian city of installations, dens and assemblages. Colourfully, repurposing, and recycling on the theme ‘Work in Progress’ DEN- City1 mushroomed on a prime piece of land by the London Olympic site in response to the London Festival of Architecture.

DEN-city featured talks, workshops, graffiti artoff, stand up comedy to poetry, performance special opening night and many other surprises…
Friday June 26,- 6-9pm/ Saturday June 27, 2-9pm/ Sunday June 29, 1-4pm

Darran Anderson is a writer from Derry. He is former contributing editor to 3:AM Magazine and Dogmatika. He has written the 33 1/3 study of Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson(Bloomsbury, 2013) as well as the forthcoming Jack Kerouac – Critical Lives (Reaktion Books, 2014) and A Hubristic Flea (3:AM Press, 2014). He has also written several collections of poetry including Tesla’s Ghost (Blackheath Books, 2009). He regularly writes on art, literature and music for the likes of Studio International, 3:AM and The Quietus.

Image credits- The Jetsons and Space Ghost’s “Battle of the Planets” Ride by Bruce Bushman for a Hanna-Barbera Land . His notes indicate a level of interactivity with “simulated ray gun hits” and “individual climb and dive controls”. These design concepts were never built.

Images 1-3 of Mayor Tom Estes by MIA CULPA





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The Future of Art In An Age Of Digital Intelligence


Previously it was thought that no robot could create anything that is related to creativity or art. However, scientists of Konstanz University have created a robot artist that paints on white paper with its digital painter program. Its name is eDavid and it works just like a human painter. It is a combination of digital computers, normal robotic arm and a camera.

There is a popular meme in tech and economics right now: the idea that technology — or robots specifically — will take our jobs and put us all out of work. The technology is here. But the jobs are nowhere to be found. Thanks to the efficiency of the internet and automated systems, productivity and GDP have grown during the last few decades, but the middle class and jobs are disappearing. But what about artists? Can art made by humans be replaced by machines? Creativity is one of humanity’s uniquely defining qualities. Numerous thinkers have explored the qualities that creativity must have, and most pick out two important factors: whatever the process of creativity produces, it must be novel and it must be influential.

The history of art is filled with good examples in the form of paintings that are unlike any that have appeared before and that have hugely influenced those that follow. Leonardo’s 1469 Madonna and child with a pomegranate, Goya’s 1780 Christ crucified or Monet’s 1865 Haystacks at Chailly at sunrise and so on. Others paintings are more derivative, showing many similarities with those that have gone before and so are thought of as less creative.

The job of distinguishing the most creative from the others falls to art historians. And it is no easy task. It requires, at the very least, an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of art. The historian must then spot novel features and be able to recognize similar features in future paintings to determine their influence.


Creativity is one of humanity’s uniquely defining qualities. Numerous thinkers have explored the qualities that creativity must have, and most pick out two important factors: whatever the process of creativity produces, it must be novel and it must be influential.

Making artistic decisions are a tricky tasks for a human and until recently, it would have been unimaginable that a computer could take them on. But today that changes thanks to the work of Ahmed Elgammal and Babak Saleh at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who say they have a machine that can do just this.

They’ve put it to work on a database of some 62,000 pictures of fine art paintings to determine those that are the most creative in history. The results provide a new way to explore the history of art and the role that creativity has played in it.

Several advances have come together to make this advance possible. The first is the rapid breakthroughs that have been made in recent years in machine vision, based on a way to classify images by the visual concepts they contain.

These visual concepts are called classemes. They can be low-level features such as color, texture, and so on, simple objects such as a house, a church or a haystack and much higher-level features such as walking, a dead body, and so on.

This approach allows a machine vision algorithm to analyze a picture and produce a list of classemes that describe it (up to 2,559 different classemes, in this case). This list is like a vector that defines the picture and can be used to compare it against others analyzed in the same way.


Technology is going to hit every corner of human civilization. This approach is not just limited to art. Elgammal and Saleh point out that it can also be used to explore creativity in literature, sculpture, and even in science.

The second advance that makes this work possible is the advent of huge online databases of art. This is important because machine visions algorithms need big databases to learn their trade. Elgammal and Saleh do it on two large databases, one of which, from the Wikiart website, contains images and annotations on some 62,000 works of art from throughout history.

The final component of their work is theoretical. The problem is to work out which paintings are the most novel compared to others that have gone before and then determine how many paintings in the future have uses similar features to work out their influence. Elgammal and Saleh approach this as a problem of network science. Their idea is to treat the history of art as a network in which each painting links to similar paintings in the future and is linked to by similar paintings from the past.


New developments in artificial intelligence and it’s relationship to art is acted out in a Live Art Performance by Tom Estes at The Venice Biennale. While computers are beginning to act more and more like humans, artist Tom Estes reverses this relationship by acting like a computer program.

The problem of determining the most creative is then one of working out when certain patterns of classemes first appear and how these patterns are adopted in the future. “We show that the problem can reduce to a variant of network centrality problems, which can be solved efficiently,” they say.

In other words, the problem of finding the most creative paintings is similar to the problem of finding the most influential person on a social network, or the most important station in a city’s metro system or super spreaders of disease. These have become standard problems in network theory in recent years, and now Elgammal and Saleh apply it to creativity networks for the first time.


The artist Tom Estes acts out the emergence of a new intelligence by wearing the “H” from the hologram “Rimmer” in the British sci-fi TV comedy Red Dwarf and the personality disc of  the characters called ‘programs’ found in the film Tron.

The results of the machine vision algorithm’s analysis are interesting. The figure above shows artworks plotted by date along the bottom axis and by the algorithm’s creativity score on the vertical axis.

Several famous pictures stand out as being particularly novel and influential, such as Goya’s Christ crucified, Monet’s Haystacks at Chailly at sunrise and Munch’s The Scream. Other works of art stand out because they are not deemed creative, such as Rodin’s 1889 sculpture Danaid and Durer’s charcoal drawing of Barbara Durer dating from 1514.


In the performance which Tom Estes calls ‘A Virtual Drawing Machine’ Estes references a new-born entity through child-like scribblings on a type-writer at The Biennial Project Residency in Venice

Many art historians would agree. “In most cases the results of the algorithm are pieces of art that art historians indeed highlight as innovative and influential,” say Elgammal and Saleh.An important point here is that these results are entirely automated. They come about because of the network of links between paintings that the algorithm uncovers. There is no initial seeding that biases the search one way or another.

Of course, art historians will always argue about exactly how to define creativity and how this changes their view of what makes it onto the list of most creative. The beauty of Elgammal and Saleh’s techniques is that small changes to their algorithm allow different definitions of creativity to be explored automatically. This kind of data mining could have important impacts on the way art historians evaluate paintings.  The ability to represent the entire history of art in this way changes the way it is possible to think about art and to discuss it. In a way, this kind of data mining, and the figures that represent it, are new instruments of reason for art historians.

A robot writes a Torah at an installation in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, July 10, 2014. It is an installation by the artist group robotolab. The robot is equipped with a pen nib and ink and will write the Torah in human speed. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

 A robot writes a Torah at an installation in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, July 10, 2014. It is an installation by the artist group robotolab. The robot was equipped with a pen nib and ink and wrote the Torah in human speed. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

And this approach is not just limited to art. Elgammal and Saleh point out that it can also be used to explore creativity in literature, sculpture, and even in science.  In fact, we have reached a tipping point where technology is now destroying more jobs than it creates. And if the trend continues we could face a serious crisis, said Wendell Wallach, a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. Robots, 3D printing, and other emerging technologies are all fueling technological unemployment and global wealth disparity. Technological unemployment is the concept of technology killing more jobs than it produces. While that fear has been considered a Luddite fallacy for the past 200 years, it is now becoming a stark reality.

“This is an unparalleled situation and one that I think could actually lead to all sorts of disruptions once the public starts to catch on that we are truly in the midst of technological unemployment,” Wallach said during a presentation at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs.

It is true that tech companies employ fewer people directly. But they create ecosystems that employ more people indirectly. Think of Facebook, which has more than 2 million advertisers. Or the hundreds of thousands of sellers on eBay and Amazon. The mobile app industry alone is now bigger than the entire movie industry. Google alone is now bigger than the entire newspaper and magazine ad industry. Employment obeys its own cycles governed by overall economic growth, not tech. The most frustrating thing about the “robots are taking our jobs!” meme is that it feels true on an anecdotal basis. You can draw that blue trend line arrow wherever you want, of course. It is true that new tech may destroy jobs temporarily. But Tech jobs also tend to be better paid than the old jobs, too. Remember all those people who used to be employed making beepers? All those jobs are gone but the workers who did those beeper jobs are not unemployed. Society is not overrun by an army of destitute beeper assembly workers.  In 2008,The Times named Science Fiction writer Iain Banks in their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945. In this interview he sums it up quite nicely:

“People still buy paintings even though the camera was invented… people still go the the theater despite the invention of cinema. I don’t think any of these things necessarily mean the end to what came earlier… perhaps it is best to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1506.00711 : Quantifying Creativity in Art Networks






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The Beginning Of The End Of Terrestrial Collider-Based Physics?


The existence of magnetic monopoles is a widely discussed topic in physics. Predicted in 1931 by Paul Dirac, a magnetic monopole is a particle that contains only one magnetic pole, therefore containing a net “magnetic charge”. They are yet to be seen in nature.

June 6, 2015 – Physicists around the world (myself included) are hoping that this week will mark the beginning of a new era of discovery. And not, as some fear, the end of particle physics as we know it.

After 27 months of shutdown and re-commissioning, the Large Hadron Collider has begun its much-anticipated “Season 2”. Deep beneath the Franco-Swiss border, the first physics data is now being collected in CERN’s freshly upgraded detector-temples at the record-breaking collision energy of 13 teraelectonvolts (TeV).

Much has been written about the upgrade to the accelerator, the experiments, and the computing infrastructure required to handle the fresh deluge of data from the new energy frontier. There has also – quite rightly – been a lot of attention paid to the crowning achievement of Run 1: the discovery of the Higgs boson.

But the “elephant in the collider” is this: we knew that Run 1 had to find the Higgs boson – or something like it, and it did. With Run 2, we don’t know what we’re looking for.

OK, so maybe that’s bit of an over-simplification. We certainly have a good few guesses as to what’s beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, our current best understanding of matter and forces at the fundamental level that was essentially completed in July 2012.

One of the leading contenders is supersymmetry, a theory that provides a candidate for the dark matter that supposedly makes up some 23% of our universe. As it happens, my PhD was based on the first results from the LHC Run 1 that said we hadn’t found evidence for supersymmetry.

To date, I have not had to write an embarrassing addendum to my thesis. But, while there are many compelling arguments for supersymmetry, it is not required in the same way the Higgs boson was. The Higgs was a missing piece in our current physics jigsaw; supersymmetry would represent a new puzzle entirely.

Scientific Wild-Goose Chase?

Does that make Run 2 a waste of time? Are we pouring money into an extra-dimensional wild-goose chase? Are we, in fact, staring down the barrel of the end of collider-based particle physics?


Back in action: CERN’s LHC will begin Run 2 

You’d be forgiven for thinking so, if you had no knowledge or understanding of the history of particle physics (or how science works, for that matter). After all, science is arguably at its most boring when you 1) know exactly what you’re looking for, and 2) find it.

It’s much more fun to consider physics in the middle of the 20th century. You could pretty much describe all of known physics, chemistry, materials science, and biology with electrons, protons, neutrons and photons. Yet advances in particle detector technology – Wilson’s cloud chamber, Blackett’s triggers, Powell’s photographic emulsions – led to the discovery of completely new particles outside of this comfortable model of nature.

At the time, cosmic rays – particles bombarding our atmosphere from outer space – had far greater energies than the particles laboratory-based accelerators could produce. They represented a new energy frontier for physics, explored by the heroic particle hunters of the 1930s and ‘40s who trekked up mountains, launched high-altitude balloons, and flew aeroplanes in search of their quantum quarry.

They were rewarded for their efforts with, among other things, strange particles, a completely new type of matter that defied the predictions of the time and opened the door to a veritable zoo of subatomic building blocks.

The second half of the 20th century saw a trans-Atlantic race to build bigger and bigger particle accelerators to artificially produce cosmic rays in the controlled conditions of the laboratory and tame the particle zoo. This race was, arguably, won by the LHC. As we approach the new, unknown energy frontier of Run 2, we are therefore once again in need of a new generation of particle hunters. We need experimental physicists who are able to painstakingly pore over every byte of data in search of “what’s next”.

Personally, I have eschewed supersymmetric searches (been there, done that) and, along with the students of the Langton Star Centre, joined the MoEDAL Collaboration. This experiment is looking for Paul Dirac’s hypothesised magnetic monopole. Based in the LHCb cavern at Point 8, MoEDAL (Monopole and Exotics Detector at the LHC) will use a number of novel detector technologies to look for tracks generated by the heavy, highly-ionising magnetic monopoles that could, in theory, be produced in the proton-proton collisions.

Magnetic monopoles are the magnetic equivalent of single electric charges – like a magnet with only a north or south pole, and not both – and their discovery would shake physics to its electromagnetic core. It’s a high-risk, high-reward search – but by providing alternatives to the traditional detector methodologies of CMS and ATLAS, we’re ensuring that as many bases are covered as possible.

We don’t know what we will find in Run 2. It could be monopoles, dark matter, micro-black holes, extra dimensional excitations, gravitons or something else entirely. What’s certain is this: if we are to find anything, we are going to have to be incredibly clever about how we go about it. We may even need your help. If we don’t find anything, it might be the beginning of the end of what terrestial, collider-based physics can tell us about the Universe. But even a null result from Run 2 would still be a result, and an important one at that.

So, it is the dawn of a new era for particle physics. It is time for the experimentalists to once again outshine their theoretical friends. It is open season for the particle hunters.

You can find out more about the MoEDAL experiment at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, 30 June – 5 July, London.

Dr. Tom Whyntie is Visiting Academic and GridPP Dissemination Officer at Queen Mary University of London. Tom Whyntie is the resident scientist for CERN@school. After reading Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, Dr Whyntie completed his PhD in experimental particle physics on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at Imperial College London and CERN, Switzerland.

His thesis centred on the (as yet) fruitless search for Dark Matter in the proton-proton collisions of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Dr Whyntie is currently the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Researcher in Residence at the Langton Star Centre in Canterbury, Kent, and is a Visiting Academic with the Particle Physics Research Centre at Queen Mary, University of London. As the resident scientist for the CERN@school project, he coordinates the student research programme associated with the school-based Timepix detectors and the space-based Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intenstity Detector (LUCID) experiment.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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