An Artificial Glacier That Crystallizes Fresh Water



Educationalist-environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk won the prestigious Rolex Award in 2016 for the Ice Stupa Artificial Glacier project in Phyang village, Ladakh. Among 30 finalists from 10 countries, Wangchuk was chosen for his project that conserves water and battles climate change

It is the latest solution to an old problem in the Himalayan foothills. Despite its breathtaking scenery, life in Ladakh has always been hard. It is a desert at 10,000 feet, receiving on average just 50mm of rainfall each year. The only reason people can live there is the glaciers.

Each winter, titanic shelves of ice form at high altitudes and melt throughout the spring, flowing downwards into the streams that are the veins of civilisation on the mountain. Lately, that cycle has faltered. Unnaturally high global temperatures threaten ice shelves everywhere – but researchers believe Himalayan glaciers are shrinking more quickly than any on earth. Less water is reaching Ladakh’s farms and villages, and when it does, the volume of water from the faster-melting glaciers can break the banks of streams, causing floods.

The idea crystallised in his mind one morning as Sonam Wangchuk was crossing a bridge in the Indian Himalayas. Addressing the water shortages that threatened life in his mountainous home had started to feel like an intractable problem until he saw the chunk of ice: still hanging, improbably, beneath the bridge, long after the shards around it had melted.

In that moment, he says, “I understood that it was not the warmth of the sun that was melting the ice on the ground. It was direct sunlight.”


Wangchuk is not the first to try to wring a more sustainable water supply from the mountains. For centuries, inhabitants of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges have practiced “glacier grafting”, chipping away at existing ice and pooling the pieces at higher altitudes, hoping to create new glaciers that can supply streams throughout the growing season. Apocryphally, villagers in the 13th century “grew” such glaciers across mountain passes to stop the advance of Genghis Khan.

More than a decade ago, another Indian engineer devised an update. Chewang Norphel earned the nickname the “iceman of Ladakh” by using a network of pipes to divert meltwater into artificial lakes on shaded sides of the mountain. The water would freeze at night, creating glaciers that grew each day as new water flowed into the basin. Norphel created 11 reservoirs that supplied water to 10,000 people.

“The problem was that it couldn’t be done in lower altitudes, where people actually live,” says Wangchuk. The lakes were also restricted to heavily shaded areas, and simply melted too quickly to make up for the shortfall in water wrought by increasing temperatures. Adapting the concept became Wangchuck’s obsession. The auspicious chunk of ice on the bridge showed him how that could be done.

“The ice needed to be shaded – but how?” he says. “We couldn’t have it under a bridge, or use reflectors, which aren’t practical at scale. So we thought of this conical shape: making ice shade itself.”

It was a kind of biomimicry: artificial innovation based on natural phenomena, such as velcro – modelled on the way plant burrs attach to dogs, or new skin grafts that stick to bodies by piercing the tissue and expanding, the same way parasitic worms fix to the intestines of their hosts.

The conical shape hit a sweet spot, maximising the volume of ice that can be “grown”, while minimising the surface area exposed to direct sunlight. That means it keeps melting well into the spring, releasing up to 5,000 litres of water each day by “storing it in the sky”, Wangchuk says.

It also has the benefit of resembling the Buddhist stupas – religious sites used for meditation and worship – that dot the landscape, a crucial point for 50-year-old. “Because it resembles something we have in our tradition, it is made more close to the population, to their hearts,” he says.

Synchronising his work with nature and tradition are key to the inventor’s practice. “Generally I like things to be simple and self-acting,” he says. “For me, simplicity is beauty, simplicity is the ultimate satisfaction.”

And the stupas are simple. They are formed by running pipes below the frost line, at which temperature the water hovers between a liquid and solid state. Then the pipes turn skywards, spraying the water into -20C air, using the bitter cold to freeze it as it falls to earth.

The first prototype, stretching 20 feet high, was built in October 2013, and expected to melt by the beginning of May. It lasted eighteen days longer. A second much larger stupa was grown near a forest of 5,000 trees, and kept them watered throughout the driest months until 6 July.

What Wangchuck saw reflected in the ice that day was realised four years ago, when he unveiled his first “ice stupa”, an artificial glacier that towered surreally over the otherwise arid landscape, and for which in December he received a prestigious £80,000 innovation prize. The engineer from Ladakh, in the Jammu region of north India, was already a famous problem solver: a Bollywood film loosely based on his life had grossed a billion rupees in its first four days.

Those two stupas were funded by crowdsourcing donations. Last year, Wangchuk was awarded a Rolex innovation grant, money he will use to create the next generation of ice towers. 20 more, each 100 feet high, are in the works.

He will also use the money to fund an “alternative university” in Ladakh to train young people to see in their surroundings answers to the region’s problems. “Solutions for the mountains, by the mountain people,” he says.


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The U.S. And Corporate Lobbying Behind Planetary Arson


Blitz, by artist Tom Estes, a large scale digital projection on the front of the magnificent neo-classical facade of The Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. The projection took place on June 16th 2016 for the opening night of the Yorkshire Festival. In Blitz, an individual is depicted being thrown through the air by a lightning bolt, superimposed on to a Victorian Bible open to the story of Noah and the flood. Blitz therefore, recalls our own most immediate concern of tackling Climate Change and the threat of rising sea levels.  Estes states “The slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer”.

NOW THAT IT SEEMS virtually certain that Donald Trump will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, and the climate movement is quite rightly mobilizing in the face of this latest dystopian lurch, it’s time to get real about something: Pretty much everything that is weak, disappointing, and inadequate about that deal is the result of U.S. lobbying since 2009.

The fact that the agreement only commits governments to keeping warming below an increase of 2 degrees, rather than a much safer firm target of 1.5 degrees, was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that the agreement left it to individual nations to determine how much they were willing to do to reach that temperature target, allowing them to come to Paris with commitments that collectively put us on a disastrous course toward more than 3 degrees of warming, was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that the agreement treats even these inadequate commitments as non-binding, which means governments apparently do not have anything to fear if they ignore their commitments, is something else that was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that the agreement specifically prohibits poor countries from seeking damages for the costs of climate disasters was lobbied for and won by the United States.

The fact that it is an “agreement” or an “accord” and not a treaty — the very thing that makes it possible for Trump to stage his action-movie slow-mo walk away, world in flames behind him — was lobbied for and won by the United States.

I could go on. And on. Often the U.S. had help in this backroom bullying from such illustrious petro-states as Saudi Arabia. When aggressively lobbying to weaken the Paris accord, U.S. negotiators usually argued that anything stronger would be blocked by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. And that was probably true. But some of the weakening — particularly those measures focused on equity between rich and poor nations — was pursued mainly out of habit, because looking after U.S. corporate interests is what the United States does in international negotiations.


Whatever the reasons, the end result was an agreement that has a decent temperature target, and an excruciatingly weak and half-assed plan for reaching it. Which is why, when it was first unveiled, James Hansen, arguably the most respected climate scientist in the world, called the agreement “a fraud really, a fake,” because “there is no action, just promises.”

But weak is not the same as useless. The power of the Paris Agreement was always in what social movements resolved to do with it. Having a clear commitment to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C,” means there is no room left in the global carbon budget to develop new fossil fuel reserves.

That simple fact, even without legal enforcement behind it, has been a potent tool in the hands of movements against new oil pipelines, fracking fields, and coal mines, as well as in the hands of some very brave young people taking the U.S. government to court for failing to protect their right to a safe future. And in many countries, including the U.S. until quite recently, the fact that governments at least paid lip service to that temperature target left them vulnerable to that kind of moral and popular pressure. As author and co-founder Bill McKibben said on the day the Paris deal was unveiled, world leaders set a “1.5 C goal — and we’re damn well going to hold them to it.”

In many countries, that strategy continues regardless of Trump. A few weeks ago, for instance, a delegation from low-lying Pacific Island nations traveled to the Alberta tar sands to demand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stop expanding production of that carbon-intensive fuel source, arguing that his failure to do so violates the spirit of the fine words and pledges he had made in Paris.

And this was always the task for the global climate justice movement when it came to Paris: to try to hold governments to the strong spirit, rather than the weak letter, of the agreement. The trouble is that as soon as Trump moved into the White House, it was perfectly clear that Washington was no longer susceptible to that kind of pressure. Which makes some of the histrionics in the face of the news that Trump seems to be officially withdrawing a bit baffling. However the Paris Agreement decision went, we all already knew that significant U.S. backsliding on climate was in the cards under Trump. We knew it as soon as he appointed Rex Tillerson to head the State Department and Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. We had it confirmed when he signed his Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline executive orders in his first week on the job.

For months we have been hearing about the supposed power struggles between those who wanted to stay in the agreement (Ivanka, Tillerson) and those who favored leaving (Pruitt, chief strategist Steve Bannon, Trump himself). But the very fact that Tillerson could have been the voice of the “stay” camp should have exposed the absurdity of this whole charade.

It was oil companies like the one Tillerson worked at for 41 years whose relentless lobbying helped ensure that the commitments made in Paris lack any meaningful enforcement mechanisms. That’s why one month after the agreement was negotiated, Exxon Mobil, with Tillerson still at the helm, came out with a report stating that “we expect oil, natural gas, and coal to continue to meet about 80 percent of global demand” between now and 2040. It was a bald expression of hubris by the purveyors of business as usual. Exxon knows full well that if we want a decent chance of keeping warming below 1.5-2 degrees, the stated goal of the Paris Agreement, the global economy needs to be virtually fossil-free by mid-century. But Exxon could offer those assurances to its investors — and claim it supported the agreement — because it knew that the Paris accord had no binding force.

It’s the same reason why the Tillerson faction of the Trump administration thought it could reconcile staying in Paris while simultaneously dismantling the centerpiece of the United States’ commitment under the agreement, the Clean Power Plan. Tillerson, better than almost anyone on the planet, knows how legally weak the agreement is. As CEO of Exxon, he helped make sure of that.

So as we try to make sense of this latest drama, make no mistake: The Trump administration was never divided between those who wanted to shred the Paris Agreement and those who wanted to respect it. It was divided between those who wanted to shred it and those who wanted to stay in it but completely ignore it. The difference is one of optics; the same amount of carbon gets spewed either way.

Some say that’s not the point — that the real risk in the U.S. withdrawing is that it will encourage everyone else to lower their ambition, and soon everyone will be breaking up with Paris. Perhaps, but not necessarily. Just as Trump’s health care disaster is encouraging states to consider single payer more seriously than they have in decades, Trump’s climate arson is so far only fuelling climate ambition in states like California and New York. Rather than throwing in the towel, coalitions like New York Renews, which is pushing hard for the state to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2050, are getting stronger and bolder by the day.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24:  U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) (R) speaks as (L- 2nd R) Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) listen during a news conference at the Capitol May 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats held a news conference to urge President Donald Trump to not withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, right, speaks as Sens. Edward Markey, Maria Cantwell, and Tom Carper listen during a news conference to urge President Donald Trump not to withdraw from the Paris climate accord at the Capitol, May 24, 2017, in Washington. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Outside the U.S., the signs aren’t bad either. The transition to renewable energy is already proceeding so rapidly in Germany and China, and prices are dropping so sharply, that forces far larger than Trump are propelling the shift now. Of course it’s still possible that Trump’s withdrawal will provoke global backsliding. But it’s also possible that the opposite will happen — that other countries, under pressure from their populations who are enraged by Trump’s actions on pretty much every level, will become more ambitious if the U.S. officially goes rogue. They might even decide to toughen the agreement without U.S. negotiators slowing them down at every turn.

And there is another call that is increasingly being heard from social movements around the world — for economic sanctions in the face of Trump’s climate vandalism. Because here’s a crazy idea: Whether or not it’s written into the Paris Agreement, when you unilaterally decide to burn the world, there should be a price to pay. And that should be true whether you are the United States government, or Exxon Mobil — or some Frankenstein merger of the two.

A year ago, the suggestion that the U.S. should face tangible punishment for putting the rest of the rest of humanity at risk was laughed off in establishment circles: Surely no one would put their trade relationships in danger for anything so frivolous as a liveable planet. But just this week, Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, declared, “If the U.S. withdrew from the Paris accord, the rest of the world must consider sanctions.”

We’re likely a long way from major U.S. trading partners taking that kind of a step, but governments are not the only ones that can impose economic penalties for lethal and immoral behavior.  Movements can do so directly, in the form of boycotts and divestment campaigns targeting governments and corporations, on the South African model. And not just fossil fuel corporations, but Trump’s branded empire as well. Moral suasion doesn’t work on Trump. Economic pressure just might.

It’s time for some people’s sanctions.

Naomi Klein’s new book, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need,” will be published this month.


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Archive Dreaming A Virtual Library of Babel

Babel_Refik Anadol

Archive Dreaming by Refik Anadol and his collaborator Mike Tyka presents a visualization of a future virtual Library of Babel.

Jorge Luis Borges’s 1941 tale about a library containing every possible combination of letters – every work that could ever be written – has come to life online. And its creator is no closer to finding anything new that makes sense. Using AI and machine learning, artist Refik Anadol has turned 1.7 million digital documents from a Turkish museum into a massive nod to Jorge Luis Borges.

The SALT Istanbul institution in Turkey is home to a library of over 40,000 publications including the Ottoman Bank Archives that cover Turkish contemporary and modern art, architecture, and economics from 1997 to 2010. It also has over 1,700,000 digitized items that can be viewed both online and off. You might imagine that in the future these archives and printed materials might be accessible as some kind of virtual, immersive interface, the kind we often see in sci-fi and superhero movies.

Refik Anadol states:

“As an optimist media artist I highly believe using machine intelligence can deeply create completely new meaningful, purposeful and impactful ways of thinking methodologies,” tells Anadol. “Especially in this context, a library, where information turns into knowledge, a divine space for humankind, now is completely different than before thanks to machine learning algorithms.”

“I think this project is not a science fiction at all,” he explains. “I really want people to see this as a proposition from the future. A very near one.

San Francisco-based Turkish artist Refik Anadol did more than imagine. As part of a commission with SALT Istanbul and an artist residency at Google’s Artists and Machine Intelligence (AMI) program, Anadol used AI and machine learning algorithms to search and discover interrelations between these documents. The result has transformed the 1.7 million digitized items into an immersive room in the SALT Istanbul’s first floor gallery.

To create their virtual Library of Babel, Anadol and his collaborator Mike Tyka first needed to arrange the documents by how they appeared conceptually. So they fed the images through an image recognition network to interpret the contents of the images and sort them into high level conceptual features. Anadol then used an AI algorithm known as tSNE (t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding) to organize the data from the 1.7 million documents into visuals. “The resultant maps turned out to be quite beautiful and thus we decided to use them directly as part of the projections,” notes Anadol, who created stunning fly-throughs from the maps for the 2D and 3D projections.

Archive Dreaming / Responsive GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Anadol explains that part of the the project’s aim was to think about how these artifacts and documents might be preserved and presented to future generations. Perhaps they might be lost destroyed, or forgotten. He also says he wanted to ask, How can we read or dream an archive in new ways to multiply its layers of meaning and accessibility? So Anadol employed AI to help organize and structure the vast data, resulting in an immersive installation called Archive Dreaming, an architectural space where the interactions, similarities, and interrelations of the data are presented as 3D projections and light. They can be engaged with using a touchscreen device, but when no one is interacting, the installation “dreams” up correlations between the documents, imagined relationships that have never been considered before.

Anadol took inspiration from Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” for the project. The famous short story is about an absurdist library that is at once incomprehensible but also contains every book that has ever been and shall be written—and every variation, too.

“The main idea was to create an immersive installation with architectural intelligence to reframe memory, history and culture in museum perception for 21st century through the lens of machine intelligence,” he told Creators. You can also check out a video of it here:


As mentioned, as a further nod to Borges, when the installation is idle it “dreams” up new interconnections between the documents, creating entirely new documents, ones that could have existed in an alternate history. This was done by training a generative neural network to interpret the archive at SALT. Once it had learned the patterns in the data, it was able to create entirely new and entirely imaginary documents and images using the same statistical rules. They become an archive of alternative histories, much like Borges library imagines every variation of every book ever written in every possible universe.

Babel_Refik Anadol2


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Dancer In Deflating Pikachu Costume Quickly Tackled And Rushed Off Stage By Suited Men

A video from the Pokémon World Festival near Seoul shows 15 Pikachu dancing to Hairspray when the ringleader’s costume starts deflating. Then a group of men forcefully spirit the dancer away.

The occasion is the Pokemon World Festival 2017, and the setting is Triple Street in Songdo, a new built-from-scratch city near Seoul’s Incheon airport.

The Pikachu wrap up one dance number to the song “Uptown Funk”, and begin another to “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” from the musical Hairspray.

But amidst the well-choreographed shuffling and bopping, something goes wrong, and the ringleader’s costume starts to deflate. Even as the costume slowly closes in around it, the Pikachu bravely dances on, until it is accosted and yanked offstage by at least seven men in suits, looking rather like villains.

NPR have raised several questions about this.

  • Who are these men hustling Deflating Pikachu offstage? A popular tweet called them “government security agents.”
  • Who’s inside those costumes? Is it kids?
  • Is the Pikachu punished for its deflation, or sweetly patched and refilled?
  • And finally: Why Hairspray?

A second video explains (in Korean) that the first man who runs up to the Deflating Pikachu is part of the event staff. Then a security guard runs up, because he doesn’t realize the first man is staff. The second security guard runs up to tell the first security guard that the original man is staff. Though there may still be unanswered questions you still have to have respect for those 14 Pikachu who kept dancing like no one was watching.



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The Wrathful Robot: Developers Are Creating An Angry AI


It is official. The robot apocalypse will come with the howling fury of an angry customer service call. Designers are currently working over the next six months on feeding data which is comprised of collection calls showing human beings at their worst. There’s a special kind of zen required of those who work in customer service. Now, a company in New Zealand wants to design a computer program that can mimic the hatred of angry callers in order to help those same customer representatives deal with riled up customers.

The project is named Radiant, after a supercomputer in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series that could predict the future. While the real-life Radiant won’t be quite so omniscient, its designers at the technology firm Touchpoint hope it will be able to accurately simulate millions of angry customers to help companies figure out what makes people fly off the handle, writes Michael Bingemann for The Australian

New Zealand-based technology firm Touchpoint Group is developing the world’s angriest artificial intelligence machine that it hopes will one day help big banks, telcos and insurance companies defuse explosive episodes in customer service.

The new machine learning research project, which Touchpoint is investing $500,000 to develop, is being built with input from one of Australia’s big four banks, which is supplying reams of real-life customer interactions that have been collated over the past two years. Telecommunications companies and insurance firms are also contributing data.

Data scientists in Australia and New Zealand will spend the next six months uploading the dataset into the platform and tweaking its learning algorithms with an expectation that it will be live by the end of the year.Once complete, the project will simulate hundreds of millions of angry customer interactions that will help companies better understand the behaviours and processes that trigger customer outbursts.Touchpoint Group chief executive Frank van der Velden said the research would help with the complex task of understanding how customers were affected by the various products, systems, policies, processes and people they interacted with in the lead-up to reaching breaking point.Mr van der Velden said the program would constantly run “what if” scenarios to see if a particular scenario was likely to enrage or benefit the customer.

“The end goal is to build an engine that can recommend solutions to companies — and we’re talking about the people at the frontline here — how they can improve particular issues that customers are facing,” Mr van der Velden said.

“This will be possible by enabling our AI engine to learn right across a whole range of interactions of what has and has not worked in past examples.”

In the Foundation series, Prime Radiant was a supercomputer that could predict the future behaviour and development of humanity through the analysis of history, sociology and mathematical statistics. Mr van der Velden said Touchpoint’s program would be attractive to any company that had to deal with customer service complaints.

“Companies don’t have the numbers of staff to go through this manually. It’s very difficult. Take a bank for example, they receive a hell of a lot of data every day. But it gets to a point where that dataset grows so large that it becomes meaningless unless you can interpret it. That’s where Radiant will fit in,” he said.

“We’re not in the business of managing complaints; we are in the business of managing issues that might turn into complaints. We’re at the top of the cliff, not at the bottom. This will allow companies to better predict and identify those issues.”

Radiant works by examining data from the worst of the worst customer service calls and determining what factors and experiences could set someone off in any given scenario. Touchpoint is working with one of Australia’s biggest banks and several insurance companies and telecommunications firms that are supplying the customer service data that is embittering Radiant towards everyday life. By the time the program is up and running, Radiant will be able to react angrily and irrationally to telemarketers and customer service representatives-in-training who will have to try and calm the computer down. They hope to complete the program by the end of the year.

From the description of the project, it sounds like Radiant has been tasked with identifying patterns of what sets off different emotions. According to Stefan Weitz, a senior director of search at Microsoft who knows quite a bit about machine learning, the future of machine learning will be in teaching robots to identify patterns — critically analyzing queries rather than pinging the web to find results.

The designers are currently working on feeding Radiant data over the next six months, which is comprised of collection calls showing human beings at their worst. Radiant will be digesting the data, and sifting through the calls to determine what variables could set people off at any given point on a customer service call. The computer will then turn what it has learned on mankind in order to help train bank telemarketers and customer service representatives in conflict management. The developers are hoping to complete Radiant by the end of the year. The wrathful robot comes at a high price though. But if it works, it might make your next angry phone call to a company go just a little bit smoother.


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While Trump Calls For Eliminating The NEA’s Budget, Fifty-five Percent of Americans Support Doubling It


Man With Hammer, Bronze Sculpture by V.demanet, Circa 1930

When the White House released its budget which included plans to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, comparisons were made by some to ‘militants destroying statues with sledgehammers —of the extermination of culture as a vile form of propaganda’. This isn’t the first time that the N.E.A. has been in the crosshairs of conservative politics. Those who want to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have long portrayed it as the domain of the left-leaning elite, a funding arm for high-brow culture that is irrelevant to average Americans. Ronald Reagan planned to make America great again by defunding the endowment when he took office. Fortunately, a special task force convinced him against it, and he settled for cutbacks of six per cent. In a 1987 speech, Reagan said, “We honor the arts not because we want monuments to our own civilization but because we are a free people.”

Pat Buchanan, a leading voice against the NEA during the 1990s, called it the “upholstered playpen of the arts and crafts auxiliary of the Eastern liberal establishment.” Such rhetoric plays into the idea that the arts are a form of personal entertainment, not suited for public funding. They also reinforce the notion that the arts only brings benefits to those who experience them first-hand. Fast forward to the current debate over the agency’s imperiled existence, and the rhetoric is similar. Speaking on Meet the Press, President Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney said that he couldn’t turn to a “coal miner in West Virginia and say I want you please to give some of your money to the federal government so I can give it to the National Endowment for the Arts.” The implication is clear: The arts, especially publicly funded arts, aren’t valued by real Americans. However a poll conducted in 2015 by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts found that 87 percent of Americans consider the arts to be important to one’s quality of life, while 55 percent say they’d support effectively doubling the NEA’s federal funding. Despite that, President Trump’s newly released budget proposal calls for eradicating the agency entirely.


A painting by the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid at MOMA. Photo by Sam Hodgson / New York Times/ REDUX

But this discrepancy is more confusing than illuminating. How can an agency that is broadly valued come under such relentless attack? Partially, it’s because the NEA remains a relatively easy and attractive political target for critics, like the current American president, who see it as a way to make a statement about committing to small government. And while those who disapprove of publicly funding the arts are motivated, the support expressed in surveys is softer than the big percentage figures make it appear. Indeed, those who claim to value the arts don’t necessarily feel strongly about advocating for the NEA.

But Trump’s proposed annihilation of cultural funding has tripped an alarm. Rushing to defend their field, many arts backers are quick to cite the economic impact. But research has shown that trumpeting figures doesn’t galvanize support among the general public. “They don’t believe it, frankly,” says Margy Waller, a senior fellow at the research organization Topos, which in 2010 released a study on public attitudes toward the arts and arts funding. The research found problems with other traditional message points—about the transformative cultural power of the arts, for example, which they discovered overemphasizes the individual, rather than communal, impact of the field.

Waller says advocates should instead work to shift the narrative from one where the public is “thinking of the arts as a consumer,” to one in which they are “thinking of the arts as a citizen.” For the arts to deserve public support, she notes, they must be seen as a public good. This requires altering how the arts are represented. Picture the difference between an orchestra sitting in fancy dress in a concert hall—an event that appears elitist and provides no obvious value to those who don’t attend—and showing those same musicians working in local after-school programs, teaching music. “That changes, fundamentally, the way we think about the benefits of the arts,” Waller says.

Her research found that people responded well to talking points that emphasize the “ripple effect” of the arts as a means to strengthen neighborhoods and bring people together. One  significant example happened the week after Trump signed his unravelling travel ban. The Museum of Modern Art replaced seven works in its sacrosanct fifth-floor galleries—the domain of van Gogh, Picasso, and Pollock—with pieces by artists from three of the seven targeted Muslim-majority nations. Each is accompanied by an extended label that reads, “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on Jan. 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.”

Indeed, survey data has long found broad and consistent support for the arts, even during some of the most heated attacks on the NEA. A 1999 Princeton University study revealed that during the culture wars of the 1990s, the commitment to defunding the NEA was never a majority-held position. Rather, an organized and driven minority of Americans with disproportionate political power mounted a vigorous attack on the agency. This despite the fact that 60 percent of the country supported continued or increased funding at the time. “Caring about the arts is very different than public support for the arts,” explains Bob Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. He also points to America’s historical reticence toward such public funding, noting that even establishing the NEA in the 1960s was far from guaranteed.


The NEA awarded the Art Works grant to Big Thought, which teamed up with the city of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District for the Dallas City of Learning. Image: Kids explore at the Trinity River Audubon Center.

The hard truth is that the “America First” budget cuts won’t harm the global art world they occupy, which generated forty-five billion dollars in sales last year. Yes, the N.E.A. helps support shows at such major museums as the Met, but that institution also has David Koch on its board to kick in funds when it needs sixty-five million dollars for a new pair of fountains. The N.E.A. funds programs in all fifty states. The communities that will be hardest hit by this disastrous decision are those in places like Berea, Kentucky, which received thirty thousand dollars last year to fund a program in which artists and early childhood specialists work with children in rural preschools, and with their parents during home visits, to close the achievement gap as they head into kindergarten. Or the Hydaburg Cooperative Association, whose members belong to the Haida tribe in Alaska. The H.C.A. used its forty-thousand-dollar grant to pair master carvers with apprentices to create totem poles, as the Haida people have been doing for thousands of years. It strikes me that a budget that claims to put America first should, at the very least, fund the first Americans.

Today, one challenge in turning Americans’ general support for the arts into a political bulwark against cuts is ensuring their voices are heard in ways that count. To this end, arts advocates are in better shape now than they were a few decades ago, Lynch says. As a whole, he says, the field has taken strides in channeling this sentiment into tangible efforts to lobby elected representatives. With that goal in mind, Americans for the Arts uses a third-party platform, Voter Voice, which enables the public to contact an elected representative about the NEA in roughly two minutes. The organization also recently wrapped up two days of advocacy in Washington D.C. that saw 650 arts advocates gather, strategize, and contact their representatives. “We have to be relentless,” Lynch says of such efforts, adding that he believes they will be successful.

The NEA already funds numerous socially engaged organizations, which are ripe for use as case studies showing the agency’s positive impact. One example, the New York-based nonprofit Cool Culture, provides museum access to over 50,000 families, connecting them with institutions that might otherwise be culturally alienating or financially inaccessible. The organization receives 25 percent of its annual budget from the NEA and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (the latter which is also federally funded, and also on the chopping block in President Trump’s budget). Candice Anderson, Cool Culture’s executive director, said the NEA and IMLS are “excited about the work we’re doing and the reach we have to communities of color and folks that aren’t affluent.” Ironically, it is funding from IMLS and the NEA that helps Cool Culture “address issues of elitism that individuals who are attacking these agencies accuse them of,” Anderson says. And a report in the New York Times, which found that several Republican representatives are wary about eliminating the NEA entirely, gives reason to hope. But while speculation over the demise of the agency may prove to be premature, its budget is always vulnerable to cuts. Some argue that cultivating permanent, robust support for the public funding of art—beyond any one legislative fight—requires shifting how advocates speak about its benefits.


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An Introverts Guide To The Venice Biennale 2017: The Innovative & Alternative Exhibitions And Initiatives

Venice Biennale 2015

This May, Venice will once again undergo its biannual transformation, temporarily becoming the capital of the global art scene as members of the art world descend upon the city for the opening of “Viva Arte Viva.” The highly-anticipated 2017 Biennale, curated by Christine Macel, promises to pack a punch, with 120 artists slated to show their work in the artist-focused exhibition. The main exhibition at the Biennale sets a stage that generously expands tangentially. That’s the heart. Sure, it will be dead space at times, but it’s open position is there for moments of wonder.

There is an enormous intensity of information, knowledge and ideas on display at this year’s Venice Biennale. The opening week of the Venice Biennale sees the global art community, including artists, institutional curators, influencers, gallerists, and the collectors (in their super Yachts), descending on the labyrinthine city. The vaporettos, river taxis, and winding streets will be heaving with people that you know and recognize, dressed in this summer’s global art fashion, tapping furiously on hand-held devices to try and deal with the FOMO which appears to increasingly terrorize and drive our global art tribe. But to a certain extent, this whole idea about being too vast and too plentiful is also an analysis of our current world condition; we are in a moment where there are so many different issues or crises that it’s hard to get the full picture. Alongside the tourists and the inevitable main Biennale come the satellite shows—some officially partnered with the Biennale, others functioning entirely independently.

Being exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and in particular representing your country, is one of the highest accolades a living artist can achieve. But how do artists who are working outside the mainstream art market exhibit if not chosen for their national pavilion or invited into the group show at the Arsenale? The answer is exhibitions that run alongside the Biennale, either as an official Collateral Event or simply as an Independent Exhibition concurrent with it. Creativity unscathed by artistic fashion can be exhilarating and inspiring for artists, curators and collectors. The big trend emerging from the last Venice Biennale is that ‘Outsider Art’ has become the latest art world fashion and passion. With the growing interest in Outsider Art comes the seeming contradiction that most Independent Exhibitions are invariably the most interesting thing at The Biennale for those on the inside. It is, I suspect, a reaction against the increasing commodification of what is called ‘Outsider Art’ ironically, becoming part of the global art market. Yet there is a concurrent move away from the raw emotional impact you might get from an image to the delight of intellectual curiosity it may give you with the electric charge of global politics tempered by a subtle play between materials and form. This can be explained as part of the commercial and popular success of the former versus the latter. You can’t move in the global art centers for ‘ironic’ child-like line drawings and naive paintings- sculptures and paintings that should have no connection with the formal history of art- presented in the corporate art world in an imitation of a pure unsullied voice. International biennales and the art world in general still seem incredibly homogenous and all this irony seems to thrive as an expression of powerlessness and hopelessness in the voids left by an increasingly fractured social framework whose coherence is faltering thanks to rampant privatization, economic deregulation, ubiquitous social risk and day-to-day precariousness. There is a small coterie that endeavors to prove that things on Planet Earth are not just going well, but have, in fact, never been better. Both the physical facade of power and the ideological facade of power appears to remain intact and yet it has less and less credibility. It is getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between what is ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ and what is not. In general, I am doubtful that art is there to solve the big sociopolitical questions. I have never seen it happen over the course of history. What art can do, however, is force the questions.

The first thing to do outside the main Biennale events at the Giardini and the Arsenale is to establish whether an event is part of the official Collateral Events program, and subject to selection procedure, or an Independent Exhibition. The financial aspect of a collateral event is just as critical as the selection process. Organizing an official show does not come cheaply, with a starting price at around €200,000 for a modest event.  But the average is around double as much, and if someone takes a Palazzo on the Grand Canal, the rent alone from May to November could come up to €500,000. So there are always going to be certain limitations on the art shown when the purse strings are attached. The more money spent the more mainstream. Still, applying to be listed as a collateral event may be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to get an individual artist’s work shown around the Venice Biennale.

Applications for the Collateral Events were vetted by the artistic director, and the criteria attempts to offset the more mainstream art market monopolizing these events: In order for the Biennale to accept the application it must be autonomous and from a non-profit organisation. These selections are, for the most part, beyond the control of the art market and are subject to the selection criteria and regulations of the Biennale.  Importantly, the shows can’t be directly commercially funded and must be proposed by a “promoter” organization. The proposal will include details of the art works, the curatorial direction, some technical explanation of how the exhibition will be achieved, and a location. This is a serious business—once a proposal has been selected, the Biennale will enter into dialogue with successful applicants to discuss and refine the final exhibition. The selection is then officially announced in Venice at a press conference, which took place on the February 6, although individual promoters will have been informed before this.

All the talk about precariousness, which can seem abstract or pretentious in other contexts, seems powerfully embodied in the Independent Exhibitions, as both a contemporary condition and a historical legacy. But no matter how refreshingly honest and direct independent gallerists, artists, and foundations are, they are also increasingly aware of the importance of visibility in meeting this global audience and obtaining the cache of being exhibited in Venice. And there are other organizations and institutions in Venice, like Espace Louis VuittonThe Pinault Collection, The Prada Foundation, and many of the museums, who choose to have shows alongside the Biennale, but to remain independent. When artnet News discussed this with the Pinault Collection, Martin Bethenod, director of Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, clarified their position, commenting that “Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana are two institutions with their own exhibition program. We have never been a ‘collateral event’ which does not prevent us from having the best relations with the Bienniale and to collaborate with them whenever we have this opportunity. We have been hosting events of the Dance Biennale as well as theater projects.”

Venice presents many high points. You really have to dig in and it’s virtually impossible, both physically and mentally, to digest all of it. Here, presented in no particular order, are some of our top suggestions from across the Biennale and beyond:



  Museo Correr:  Shirin Nashat 

Featuring a selection of photographs from the series The Home of My Eyes (2015), and Nashat’s new video Roja (2016), this presentation of recent works marks a shift in the Iranian artist’s practice, as her newer work takes the focus off her native country and instead points an eye towards other cultures. The 2015 series The Home of My Eyes depicts the various people of Azerbaijan through a hefty 55 portraits, while 2016’s video work Roja turns the camera inward to look at Nashat’s personal experience of living as a foreigner in the US

 Museo Correr

Piazza San Marco, 52, 30124 Venezia

May 13 – November 26



AVBIV & Art Selectronic: The Anomaly

Many of us often see the Internet as impossible to control based on its very structure, as it gives everyone access to a democratic form of communication free of government control. The Great Firewall of China shows us that it isn’t quite that simple — the Internet has its bottlenecks where censorship can be instituted and technologies abused to aid in censorship. From China’s blocking and filtering system, Singapore’s class license system, and the United States’ government-private partnership model we are dealing with an ideological thing: a perfectly seamless machine for the centralization of power that negates any criticism.

Tom Estes‘ Live Art performance is based on a scene from Cinema Paradiso in which a priest rings a bell in order that the projectionist cuts certain imags from films before public viewing. The costume is a fusion of characters from The Terminator and The Matrix and so is reflective of our on-going relationship to censorship and images within the cybersphere.

Estes will be performing The Anomaly at various sites around Venice from May 11th to 14th. Chosen by high profile judges from over 900 entries from around the globe, The AVBIV Selected Artists for this year at La Biennale di Venezia include Tom Estes’ Live Art Performance: The Anomaly. So if you don’t catch his live performance, documentation from Estes’ performance will also be on display at a champagne reception hosted by The Biennial Project at  ARTIsm3160

San marco 3160 Salizada Malipiero, 30124 Venice, Italy




Virtual Reality Commissions at Fondazione Giorgio Cini

One American, and one German expand their dark visions into the realm of virtual reality. These two bad-boy provocateurs—Christian Lemmerz, whose sculptural output celebrates an almost cartoonish level of gore and offensiveness, promises a visceral “close-up experience with a burning corpse of Jesus Christ, which ‘rains’ embers” (sure to be a crowd-pleaser among the Italian Catholic community). And Paul McCarthy, never known for a subtle touch, will doubtlessly revel in the chance to push some high-tech buttons. (The projects were accomplished in collaboration with Khora Contemporary, a Copenhagen-based company helping contemporary artists branch out into VR technology.)

Paul McCarthy and Christian Lemmerz Virtual Reality Commissions at Fondazione Giorgio Cini

Isola di San Maggiore

May 12–AUG. 27

Opening: MAY 11, 6–8 P.M.


Slavoj Zizek



Žižek’s idiosyncratic style, popular academic works, frequent magazine op-eds, and critical assimilation of high and low culture have gained him international influence and a substantial audience outside of academia in addition to controversy and criticism

Thursday, 11 May 2017 at 5pm

Aula Magna, Tolentini
Iuav University of Venice
Santa Croce, 191

Opening of the Pavilion and inaugural exhibition: 10 May, 6 – 9 p.m.



Research Pavilion: Utopia of Access 

Under the title The Utopia of Access, the Research Pavilion wants to give room to a variety of artistic interpretations and viewpoints involving access-oriented thought, by connecting it with aesthetic, scientific and political perspectives.

The experimental exhibitions will be organized by different partners. The first exhibition, You gotta say yes to another access, is a Nordic collaboration (May-June), followed by the Zurich University of the Arts’ exhibition, Florian Dombois’s Galleria del Vento (July-August) and lastly an exhibition by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Hauntopia/what if (September-October).

The Research Pavilion constitutes a high level critical platform that produces a significant addition to the 57th Venice Biennale by showcasing how universities and academies function today as experimental laboratories within contemporary art.

The Research Pavilion will feature a parallel cross-artistic program called Camino Events that will include nearly 50 workshops, artistic interventions, screenings, discussions on artistic research and research within the arts and performances.

In generating a series of exhibitions and activities for critical art and thinking, the Research Pavilion will not only present artistic research to a wider audience, but also introduce visions of a reality that has not yet been realised in theory or practice.

The Research Pavilion is created and hosted by Uniarts Helsinki, and realized together with the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme and the Swedish Art Universities’ collaboration Konstex in co-operation with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and Zurich University of the Arts.

Venue: Sala del Camino
Campo S. Cosmo, Giudecca, 621 Venice
Vaporetto stop: Palanca
Tue – Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Admission free


The Diaspora Pavilion: International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London (UAL) 

The Diaspora Pavilion is conceived as a challenge to the prevalence of national pavilions within the structure of an international biennale and takes its form from the coming-together of nineteen artists whose practices in many ways expand, complicate and even destabilise diaspora as term, whilst highlighting the continued relevance that diaspora as a lived reality holds today.

International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London (UAL) present Diaspora Pavilion, an exhibition to be held in Venice from May 13th until November 26th 2017 at the Palazzo Pisani S. Marina during the 57th Venice Biennale.

from May 13th until November 26th 2017

The Palazzo Pisani S. Marina, 30100 Venice, Italy




Intuition at Palazzo Fortuny

This sprawling, ambitious group show marks the venue’s sixth collaborative effort from Axel Vervoordt and Daniela Ferretti. Previous iterations explored broad and malleable themes, like the concept of proportion. The focus this time around, according to a gallery statement, is on “dreams, telepathy, paranormal fantasy, meditation, creative power, hypnosis, and inspiration” which the curators tease out through works by a fantastic cast of characters, from Hilma af Klint to Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramović.

“Intuition” at Palazzo Fortuny

SAN MARCO 3780 MAY 13–NOV. 26

OPENING: MAY 10–12, 10 A.M.–5 P.M.



Hieronymus Bosch, Hermit Saints Triptych (c. 1493)

 Palazzo Ducale, Jheronimus Bosch and Venice and Venice

After a campaign of restoration financed by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) and the Getty Foundation of Los Angeles, the exhibition presents three newly-restored paintings conserved right in Venice at the Gallerie dell’Accademia. In her review of the show, artnet News’ Sarah Hyde wrote, “Despite advances in technology which have enabled human beings to go much further in articulating their deepest fears, Bosch is still the master.”

Heronimus Bosch and Venice and Venice” at the Palazzo Ducale, February 18 – June 4




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