Should We Be Worried? Artist Tom Estes On Net Neutrality


Chosen by high profile judges from over 900 entries from around the globe, The AVBIV Selected Artists for 2017 at La Biennale di Venezia include Tom Estes’ Live Art Performance: The Anomaly

Tom Estes‘ Live Art performance, The Anomaly, plays on issues of censorship in the cybersphere. The 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 on the web.


Tom Estes‘ Live Art performance, The Anomaly, plays on issues of censorship in the cybersphere

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.

In the Western World, Net neutrality is about everyone having access to the ‘same’ internet. That means internet service providers (ISPs) should not generally interfere with what you can see online. They can sell customers packages with different overall speeds. But they can’t change data speeds for certain websites, or block them altogether. Net neutrality laws are different in different countries. The US has had very strong regulations, which were enshrined under the Obama administration.

In America, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  recently revealed plans to overturn the rules brought in under Obama. The FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai, said the proposals would make the federal government “stop micromanaging the internet”. But there have been protests from many of the biggest web firms and outcry from thousands of consumers. More than half a million people have reportedly called Congress to register their objections. Facebook vice president Erin Egan said the FCC proposal fails to “ensure the internet remains open for everyone”. She said Facebook would “work with all stakeholders committed to this principle”. Likewise, Netflix has said the FCC plan “defies the will of millions of Americans”.

Net neutrality means ISPs have to follow strict regulations. And, without these, there might be more potential for them to make money. For instance, video streaming websites might pay them to prioritise their content. They could also charge consumers different prices, depending on the package they chose. Supporters of net neutrality say regulations help prevent a ‘two-tier’ internet – with some people getting a limited or slower service. Without neutrality, they say smaller web firms could struggle to compete against more established ones who have deals with ISPs. On the other hand, ISPs claim that regulations slow down innovation because it makes networks less profitable.

Obamacare for the internet. That was how, at the height of the 2014 primary season, the Republican presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, referred to the net neutrality rules proposed by the Obama administration. Designed to safeguard equitable access to the internet, they were enacted the following year. But they suffered a significant, albeit expected, blow when the US telecoms regulator, chaired by a Trump appointee, voted to ditch them.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should not be able to charge different content providers different prices for transmitting data to their consumers. Strong net neutrality rules would prevent a big company such as Netflix from paying an ISP to guarantee faster access to its content than its competitors, or offer unlimited data access to Netflix bundled in as part of a broadband or mobile contract.

Like any rational monopolist, these companies will exploit a lack of net neutrality to maintain their dominance to the detriment of consumers. Facebook has publicly come out in favour of net neutrality in the American public debate. But it is aggressively capitalising on the absence of net neutrality in the developing world, where it is seeking to quickly expand its eye-watering consumer reach encapsulated in the fact that a quarter of the world’s population now have a Facebook account. It has been pressuring mobile network providers to offer free access to a very limited slice of the internet, including Facebook, for consumers who cannot afford to pay for internet access, and without a hint of irony, self-labelling it “philanthropy”.

Internet service providers point to the fact that YouTube and Netflix between them consume half of internet bandwidth. How are they supposed to future-proof our broadband infrastructure if they can’t charge them for access to their customers? This argument is a sham. The fundamentally uncompetitive broadband market means any extra revenues are far more likely to be pocketed by shareholders than invested in improving the infrastructure. And consumers are anyway already paying considerably for that data through their broadband packages.

Laws are weaker in many countries, meaning ISPs can offer different packages and give preferential treatment to selected services. In New Zealand, for instance, mobile users can pay to exempt Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter from their monthly data limit. Other social media is not included and the data caps still apply. At the moment, not having net neutrality is most noticeable on mobile networks, rather than home broadband.

“That’s simply because most home broadband no longer has a data cap,” according to Professor Chris Marsden from the University of Sussex.

“The idea is that you provide specialised services for favoured applications,” he told FactCheck.

“At the moment, that’s about providing zero-rating stuff on mobiles, so it doesn’t reach your monthly limit. But in future, it could be about providing faster access for certain selected services, such as video, than what you get on your regular internet.”

The issue has been less controversial in the UK, partly because the ISP market is more competitive. One British politician has pointed out: “Unlike in the UK, in some parts of the US consumers have no choice which ISP they use because only one offers a service in their area.” That means – without net neutrality – some US consumers may have no choice but to accept whatever packages their ISP offers. In the UK, net neutrality rules are enshrined in EU law. But before this, all the major ISPs had already signed up to a voluntary Open Internet Code. This made promises such as not blocking services or damaging the services of competitors. Recent EU rules were more thorough and have received both praise and criticism. Joe McNamee, of the European Digital Rights, has said that Europe is “a global standard-setter in the defence of the open, competitive and neutral internet”. But Konstantinos Stylianou from the University of Leeds School of Law said it was “overkill”. And the former head of Ofcom has warned that “over-prescriptive and detailed legislation may deliver the opposite of the intended effect”.

So the fight for net neutrality must be seen in the context of an even bigger debate. Is the internet something to be ruled over by all-mighty private companies with little oversight from the state? Or do we recognise it as too fundamental to our security, to the way we communicate, and to our economy, to leave it vulnerable to the cowboy tactics so often deployed when the private sector spots an unregulated monopoly? The worldwide web’s founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, worries that “the system is failing”. He’s right. It’s time to finally treat his invention like the public utility it has definitively grown to become.

Estes performed 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. 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
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The Cryogenics Lab That Doesn’t See Death As The End Of Life


Image:  Live Art Performance by Tom Estes at Yami-Ichi (Black Market) at Tate Modern 

One Michigan cryogenics lab is promising people the chance at a longer life that extends even after they die. Though the practice is more fiction than science at this point, the hope is that in the future, cryo-preserved bodies will be revived when cures for diseases are found. Cryonics was first proposed in the 1960s by a Robert Ettinger, in a book called The Prospect of Immortality, which argued that death could, in fact, be a reversible process. Ettinger went on to found the Cryonics Institute in Michigan where he, his mother and his first and second wives all now reside in metal flasks kept at −196 °C.  Ettinger, a physics and math college professor who believed that  cooling a body to extreme temperatures would preserve it so that the dead could be revived later. Ettinger himself was placed in cryogenic stasis when he was declared legally dead in 2011.

While the concept has never become mainstream, the number of people choosing to sign up is steadily increasing year on year. There are now nearly 300 cryogenically frozen individuals in the US, another 50 in Russia, and a few thousand prospective candidates signed up.The central idea is simple: preserve the body in a pristine condition until such times as medicine has developed a cure for whatever brought about death in the first place – at which point the corpse is thawed and reanimated.

The world’s three major facilities – two in the US and KrioRus, a Russian centre on the outskirts of Moscow, differ slightly in price and ethos. Alcor has a reputation for celebrity clients, while KrioRus offers budget service, probably due to its communal approach to storage, with bodies sharing tanks with a menagerie of 20 or so pets (cats, dogs, birds) that owners have paid to preserve.

“We have big cryostats, each about 3 cubic metres. About seven bodies fit in,” says Danilo Medvedev, the company’s CEO. “They’re placed in sleeping bags. There’s no point in having separate metal containers. It would only make it more complicated.”

“My primary strategy for living through the 21st century and beyond is not to die,” Ray Kurzweil, the futurologist and Google engineer has said. But in the event that plan A doesn’t work out, he has opted to have his body cryogenically preserved at the world’s largest facility, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Calling someone ‘dead’ is merely medicine’s way of excusing itself from resuscitation problems it cannot fix today,” Alcor’s website states. The real question, though, is not whether medicine will advance – clearly it will – but whether the frozen bodies will be in a fit state to bring back to life.

About half of KrioRus’s 50 clients opted for entire body freezing, with the rest choosing to just preserve their heads. The bodies are placed vertically, with their heads at the bottom of the tank, where it is coldest, so the feet would thaw first in the case of a technical glitch.

The companies all use the same basic technology. First, the body is obtained as soon as possible after death, packed in ice and transported to the facility. Here the blood is drained and replaced with a mixture of anti-freeze and organ-preserving chemicals. This transforms the corpse into a glassy vitrified state, ready to be lowered into liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of -196C.

Alcor acknowledges that the process is tricky and that sometimes the brittle corpses, or patients as it refers to them, can fracture on immersion. Medvedev says “issues with hospitals and relatives” means that the freezing process is not begun in an optimal timeframe.

“The overall theory is extremely sound,” Medvedev says. “It’s not correct to say there haven’t been experiments.” His own team, he says, have shown that rats can be cooled to zero degrees and kept in suspended animation for several hours before being re-awoken. He cites another case, in which a rabbit brain was vitrified and then thawed, appearing structurally intact – although the brain was first set in a formaldehyde-like substance, that would rule out it ever functioning as a living organ in the futureWhile it used to be the stuff of science fiction, the technology behind the dream has advanced in recent years These examples, and clinical advances in storing sperm and egg cells, bear little relation to the technical challenge of trying to perfuse the entire human circulatory system, and, crucially, the brain, with anti-freeze without causing any damage.

This is where the science of cryonics really falls apart, according to Clive Coen, a professor of neuroscience at King’s College London. “The main problem is that [the brain] is a massively dense piece of tissue. The idea that you can infiltrate it with some kind of anti-freeze and it will protect the tissue is ridiculous.” Since the brain is so densely organised and so well shielded by the blood-brain barrier and the fatty myelin coating around neurons, the cocktail of cryonic chemicals would need to be vigorously pumped in to ensure every nook and cranny was infiltrated. “You’re dealing with an organ that is deliberately protecting itself from things coming in,” says Coen.

This means that achieving full vitrification is likely to lead to the exact kind of damage – membranes being ruptured, neuronal connections being lost – that the technique is designed to avoid. Coen argues that by the time the cryogenic support team arrives at the side of the patient’s hospital bed it may already be too late. “Within a few minutes of anoxia, your hippocampal neurons are dead. Gone,” he says, adding that global brain damage would be inevitable.

“Would you really want to wake up in 100 years’ time and be basically a cognitive vegetable and have your cancer fixed?” he asks. “These vulnerable people don’t realise they’re paying for something to be stored that is massively damaged.”

KrioRus charges $36,000 (£29,000) for whole body storage or $18,000 (£15,000) for just the head, and Medvedev says that after the running of the facility and its expansion is paid for, he’s not making much profit. By contrast, Alcor charges $200,000 (£162,000) for the full body and $80,000 (£65,000) for head-only preservation, and also offers the option of clients taking out a life insurance that will pay out to the company. Anders Sandberg, of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, has such a life insurance policy that, for £15 each month, will pay for his head to be frozen in the hope that the brain’s contents might be “downloaded” into a robotic agent in the future. He gives the freezing, thawing and reanimation process “maybe a 5% chance” of working. “The funny thing about cryonics is that they’re selling immortality, but very few people buy it,” he adds. Is this because people don’t actually want to live for ever, or because people think it’s nonsense? “I think it’s partially the nonsense part,” he says.

So, does cryogenics work? No one will know until the day comes that scientists feel prepared to revive those people who have elected to have their bodies preserved in the hope that one day they will have a second shot at life. People pay tens of thousands of dollars on this gamble, made riskier by the fact that, at this point, it is an inexact science. Not only do these optimistic people believe there will one day be a future where diseases are cured, but that someday there will be a way to revive the already dead. Of course, no human has ever been revived after being put in a cryogenic state, so guests of the Cryonics Institute are putting quite a bit on the line. Then again, they’re already dead.



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We The Explorers: Tom Estes And His Art on NASA’s OSIRIS Spacecraft


 Scientists and engineers gather around Lockheed Martin’s thermal vacuum chamber to watch the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft enter one of its last phases of testing. 02/2016. – University of Arizona/Symeon Platts- courtesy of NASA. As part of NASA’s We The Explorers, the work ‘Blitz’ by Artist Tom Estes is on board a small spacecraft known as OSIRIS-REx, which is using gravity’s pull to help propel it to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. 

The mission OSIRIS-REx, launched Sept. 8, 2016, on the back of an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 8 September 2016. The rocket gave OSIRIS the momentum it required to use Earth’s gravity to swing towards the asteroid. And it has now completed a carefully calibrated slingshot move around Earth which will let it land on Bennu. As planned, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023. The mission? Bring back at least a couple ounces of the asteroid so scientists can explore how planets formed and life began. It will be the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return a sample to Earth if its mission is a success.

Gravity is the key to getting the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to Bennu. There are a number of benefits to using gravity to propel OSIRIS-REx to Bennu. Mike Moreau, the OSIRIS-REx Flight Dynamics Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says, “Using the Earth Gravity Assist opens up trajectory options that use less fuel. In this case, the Earth flyby is changing the plane of OSIRIS-REx’s orbit by approximately 6 degrees, which will align the spacecraft with the orbit of Bennu.” Jeff Grossman, OSIRIS-REx Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, adds, “The spacecraft’s long path to Bennu, including the Earth Gravity Assist, was carefully chosen to allow it to reach the asteroid, conduct all of the necessary rendezvous maneuvers, and get back to Earth within the amount of fuel the spacecraft can carry onboard.”

Moreau notes, “OSIRIS-REx will fly by the Earth at an altitude of 10,700 miles (17,200 km) and will be traveling too fast to be completely captured by Earth’s gravity.” For decades, astronomers observed how a planet’s gravity could move large objects, like comets, out of their orbit. Then, in 1974, NASA’s Mariner 10 became the first spacecraft to employ the slingshot effect, also known as a gravity assist, to reach another planet. The gravity of Venus was used to help Mariner 10 reach Mercury. Now, NASA scientists and engineers are using Earth’s gravity to slingshot OSIRIS-REx on to Bennu, a relatively small asteroid about the height of the Empire State Building.

As the spacecraft approaches Earth, it will receive an increasing gravitational tug from our planet. It will essentially steal some momentum from the planet and in the process, change its speed and direction. In the months leading up to the gravity assist, the spacecraft’s thrusters were fired on two different occasions to adjust the precise target and time of the flyby. The flyby was designed to make the precise velocity change needed to arrive at Bennu in the fall of 2018.

As part of NASA’s We The Explorers, Estes’ work ‘Blitz was put on a microchip and placed on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.  In the work 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. So the work makes obvious allusions to Climate change.  Estes states

“Floating hundreds of miles above Earth, astronauts have an unparalleled and beautiful view of the planet. But that view also lets them look down on the devastating effects of climate change, wildfires, war, pollution, and other troubling human-caused activity. Less than 550 humans have orbited the Earth. Those lucky enough to have done so more than once have not only heard about the negative impact that the industrial age has had on our planet, they’ve seen it with their own eyes.  That’s why astronauts from around (and above) the world contributed to a 2015 video titled “Call to Earth,” which urged world leaders to take action ahead of the Paris Agreement.

Tom Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ introduces a new kind of artwork that functions more as art proposal for a partially realized exhibition; a document of visual and spatial modes of presentation that theorizes a different approach. The title of Tom Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ a term which is a shortened version of the German word “blitzkrieg” (blĭts’krēg’). Blitzkrieg means “A swift, sudden military offensive, usually by combined air and mobile land forces”.

Estes goes on to say:

“In my work Blitz, the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer. There is an allusion to climate change, and the recalling of  ‘war’ in the title. War seems to be one of the most effective means of convincing people to abandon their own selfish needs and mobilize in a unified effort. By way of this vicious technological cycle, we are consciously causing the sixth mass extinction of species while obsessing over every mean tweet and shocking statement. The really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together.  The stakes are higher than ever before. If we don’t all act now on Climate Change, things could spiral out of control.”



As part of NASA’s We The Explorers, Estes’ work ‘Blitz was put on a microchip and placed on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. 

In Estes’ ‘Blitz’ even the medium itself, a projected digital photograph, suggests speed, as a recording of ‘live’ split second action’. For Estes’ the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock. So the work could suggest rushing about with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer, while catastrophic destruction on a global scale looms ever closer.

Though a work of art with very contemporary concerns, the tone of imagery in Blitz seems to have more in common with the tradition of late nineteenth century photography or film. In 1892 the Lumier brothers had already began to create moving pictures. The work, therefore, seems to suggest that a movement away from the slow and contemplative in the visual arts is not just a modern phenomenon. By the 1910’s, films like those of the Keystone Cops were an established part of popular culture and so the representation of ‘speeded action’ was already on its way.


In political and social theory, accelerationism is the idea that either the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain techno-social processes that have historically characterized it, should be expanded, pre-purposed or accelerated in order to generate radical social change. Some contemporary accelerationist philosophy takes as its starting point the Deleuzo-Guattarian theory of deterritorialisation, aiming to identify, deepen, and radicalise the forces of deterritorialisation with a view to overcoming the countervailing tendencies that suppress the possibility of far-reaching social transformation. Accelerationism may also refer more broadly, and usually pejoratively, to support for the deepening of capitalism in the belief that this will hasten its self-destructive tendencies and ultimately eventuate its collapse.

Acceleration has been characterized as both reason and remedy for the challenges presented by an increasingly fraught global economy – by financial crises, ecological ruination, neo-colonial oppression and forced displacements of an unprecedented scale. The contemporary political and cultural imagination is caught between conflicting velocities: the accelerationist affirmation of technological transformation on the one hand, and decelerative or restorative movements on the other. The conference Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration gathers critical responses to this conceptual deadlock that reach across and beyond such entrenched (op)positions.

Prominent theorists include right-accelerationist Nick Land. The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru), an unofficial research unit at the University of Warwick from 1995–2003, of which Land was a member, is considered a key progenitor in both left- and right-accelerationist thought.  Prominent contemporary left-accelerationists include Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, authors of the “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, and the Laboria Cuboniks collective, who authored the manifesto “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”.


The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched Sept. 8, 2016, on the back of an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 8 September 2016.

Along accelerationist lines, Paul Mason, in works such as PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, has tried to speculate about futures after capitalism. He declares that “[a]s with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by post-capitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.” He considers that the rise of collaborative production will eventually help capitalism to kill itself.

A number of earlier philosopher have expressed apparently accelerationist attitudes, including Karl Marx in his 1848 speech “On the Question of Free Trade said:

“But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.”


In a similar vein, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that “the leveling process of European man is the great process which should not be checked: one should even accelerate it…”, a statement often simplified, following Deleuze and Guattari, to a command to “accelerate the process”

So despite the apocalyptic imagery, Estes created the digital image ‘Blitz’ as documentation of the works physical formation- intentionally leaving the material project unrealized. This has a flattening effect which merely implies the existence of an installation in real-time, three-dimensional space. This closed circuit of illusion mimics and merges with the mass media desire for immediate novelty; anticipating the online reduction of an ‘installation’ to a single image. In this instance the documentation becomes a kind of ‘virtual installation’.

“In Blitz, the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer”


Of course, this doesn’t mean that the work is actually liberated from worldly concerns. Quite the opposite. The dematerialization of Estes’ work expresses a concern with the material and phenomenological consequences of both accelerations and decelerations, as well as the aesthetic strategies afforded or precluded by them.

Estes states:

“We live in a time in which the art market dominates the artworld and so the primary concern of artists is the creation of luxury, decorative objects to sell. In contrast, Art in the 1960s and ’70s, translated politicization into an aesthetic practice of international vanguardism, contestation, criticality, counterhegemony, and postcolonial memorialization and assertion, within the framework of a politics of representation. But a generation ago, a post-modern cult now known as “identity politics” stopped many intelligent, liberal-minded people examining the bogus progressive movements and individuals they supported. Self absorption, a kind of “me-ism”, became the new zeitgeist in privileged western societies and signaled the demise of great collective movements. And Liberal ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview became increasingly expressed in individualist terms. And now we have found ourselves in a world lost to emotion, irrationality, and a weakening grasp on reality. Lies don’t faze us, and knowledge doesn’t impress us. Properly educated people always appreciate holistic approaches to any challenge. This means that they understand both cause and effect, and intertwined complexities. But the art world is a cautionary tale at this point. Art is an industry with a structural reality that must be acknowledged. There are no places where artists can be absolved of reinforcing oppressive structures. Hopefully more artists will challenge their complicity and finally break with their sense of exceptionalism.”

The work Blitz is therefore concerned with the material inscription, practical harnessing and social experience of varying speeds, from the perspective of contrasting temporalities. Particular emphasis is placed on a transversal approach, reading across, and drawing into dialogue, seemingly impossible positions within the fields of visual arts, cultural and critical theory, and media and communications.

The destruction of the old radical and militant movements—the communists, socialists and anarchists—have left liberals without a source of new ideas. The link between an effective liberal class and a more radical left was always essential to the health of the former. The liberal class, by allowing radical movements to be dismembered through Red baiting and by banishing those within its ranks who had moral autonomy, gradually deformed basic liberal tenets to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization and permanent war. The liberal class refuses to challenge, in a meaningful way, the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state. It proclaims its adherence to traditional liberal values while defending and promoting systems of power that mock these values. 

For Estes the process of real subsumption is the key to our globalized network society. In 1848 the world of Karl Marx was not facing global ecological catastrophe. Nor are we still in the process of emerging from a rural, agricultural based feudal system. Everything without exception is subordinated to an economic logic, an economic rationality. Everything must be measured, and made commensurable, through the mediation of some sort of “universal equivalent”: money or information.

The stakes are higher than ever before. We are the authors of our own misfortunes. If we don’t all act now on Climate Change, things could spiral out of control.

Real subsumption is facilitated by—but also provides the impetus for—the revolution in computing and communication technologies over the course of the past several decades. Today we live in a digital world, a world of financial derivatives and big data. And now Virtual reality supplements and enhances physical, “face-to-face” reality—rather than being, as we used to naively think, opposed to it. Neo-liberalism is not just the ideology or belief system of this form of capitalism. It is also, more importantly, the concrete way in which the system works. It is an actual set of practices and institutions. It provides both a calculus for judging human actions, and a mechanism for inciting and directing those actions.


Image: Blitz by Tom Estes on display at Speeding and Breaking: Navigating Acceleration, Organised by Screen and Audiovisual Research Unit (SARU), Department of Media & Communications, Goldsmiths College, The University of London.

Capitalism is unrelenting in it’s pursuit of profit. What cannot be assimilated is marginalized or destroyed. But Estes’ emphasis is the conflict between the physical world – a world governed by laws beyond the reasoning of human culture- and our unrelenting desires.  Or as Shakespeare put it “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy“. The title of the work Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ suggests a military offensive- and indeed we humans are at war with our own environment. Faced with the choice of either completely altering of our philosophical system or facing annihilation, humans will continue to risk annihilation. Why? Because whether it is the right choice or not, the process of acceleration is so deeply ingrained we no longer have a choice.


Blitz, by artist Tom Estes, as 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. 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”… “The stakes are higher than ever before. If we don’t all act now on Climate Change, things could spiral out of control.”



The Origins, Spectral Interpretation. Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) has the mission of studying asteroid 101955 Bennu.

Returning to the planet almost a year after its launch, the probe has already come within 10,711 miles (17,237 km) of Antarctica, before following a route north over the Pacific Ocean.

For more eye-opening news sure to pull you in, visit

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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.

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

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.

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.


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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


Tom Estes at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall at the first UK Internet Yami-ichi.

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.


Memories-to Download-Knowledge-to-your-Brain Performance by Tom Estes at  the Yami-Ichi (Black Market) at Tate Modern

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



Live Art Performance, The Anomaly, by Tom Estes at The House Performing Arts Centre, Sunday, Sept 10th for DataAche The 21st International Conference on Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts (DRHA). Hosted by The Arts Institute and The University of Plymouth (UK)

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.


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.


Live Art Performance, The Anomaly, by Tom Estes for DataAche 

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 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


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.




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.


 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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Guggenheim Museum Internet Archive: Over Two-hundred Free Art Books Shared


Image: Watchers by Artist Tom Estes

Committed to innovation, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation collects, preserves, and interprets modern and contemporary art, and explores ideas across cultures through dynamic curatorial and educational initiatives and collaborations. With its constellation of architecturally and culturally distinct museums, exhibitions, publications, and digital platforms, the foundation engages both local and global audiences.

As a vital part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s mission as an educational institution, the Guggenheim Museum’s Publications Department publishes books and catalogues to document its exhibitions and collections. If you’re planning a visit to the Guggenheim, you may also want to consider boning up on the collection, from sculpture and works on paper to Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection: From Picasso to Pollock. But wherever your interests lie, dig in and get ready for a crash course in modern art.

Modern art lovers all over the world can now rejoice. The Guggenheim Museum in New York has just made more than 200 books about modern art available online.  A veritable art history degree’s worth of books digitized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are now available for free. Not only can you read them online, but you can download them in PDF or ePub formats—for free—at the Internet Archive.

For over half a decade the museum has been digitizing its exhibition catalogs and art books, placing the results online. So whether you want to study up on some art history with titles like Picasso and the War Years and Expressionism, a German intuition or read the first English translation of Kandinsky’s On the spiritual in artyou’ve come to the right place.

Over the last few years, the Guggenheim Museum has slowly released an impressive library of modern and historic art books in collaboration with the Internet Archive. The rare and out-of-print titles include books about Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Klee, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Cornell, as well as several exhibition catalogs and books about the museum itself. You’ll also find publications on wide ranging topics from the Russian and Soviet avant-garde movement to collections of Chinese and Aztec art.

There’s the Italian metamorphosis and Russian Constructivism; thousands of years of Aztec and Chinese art; and catalogs of work by the many greats to pass through the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed halls. Formerly locked in paper prisons (a.k.a., hard-copy books), analysis of work by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Dan Flavin, Robert Rauschenberg, Gustav Klimt, Mark Rothko, and more is now free to roam the web as PDFs and ePubs.

Many of the books first books appeared online in 2012 and the collection has grown to include over 200 titles that can be viewed online or downloaded in PDF or ePub formats. You can see the full collection here.

The initiative to publish certain entries from The Guggenheim’s vast library began with 65 catalogs published in 2012, and has now grown to 205 titles. This joins 43 titles available in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Online Reading Room, 281 from Getty Publications’ Virtual Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art MetPublications’s whopping 1,611 books you can download for free. That’s in addition to the 375,000+ high resolution images of the artworks themselves the Met dumped into the public domain earlier this year.



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