Danae Stratou and Vital Space invite people from around the world to participate in the art project ‘Open the Black Boxes’ by submitting online the One Word which best reflects what threatens them the most, or what they are desperately eager to preserve.
In this time of multiple crisis and uncertainty, marked by a global pandemic, economic depression, mass riots, police brutality, raising nationalisms and environmental crisis, it is now fundamental that people have a means to express their fears and hopes. For this reason Danae Stratou launches an extraordinary open call, offering a liberating opportunity for people’s expression and to take a pulse on the current situation by promoting a sophisticated and direct democratic practice.
The submitted words will be presented digitally as infographics that can be filtered by age, gender and country of the participants, and they will become part of a physical exhibition when the covid-related restrictions are overcome. Gathered without intermediaries, the words will become an extremely valuable record of our time: raw materials for artists, researchers, and people from every walk of life to make sense of the present crisis and reimagine our future.
Open the Black Boxes is an ongoing collaboration with Vital Space, a non-profit organization co-founded by Danae Stratou in 2010. It is dedicated to the initiation of art projects, research programs, conferences, publications and the formation of educational and media products designed to reach and influence a wide and diverse audience. Vital Space strives to demonstrate in the most practical manner that art has its finger on the planet’s pulse and can mediate human deliberation on the course of our future.
Kindly participate by submitting your One Word here.
In the summer of 2018 the exhibition It’s time to open the Black Boxes! was presented at the Museu del Convento de Santo Domingo, in Mallorca, Spain, directer by Andreu Aguiló.
We are in a hall used to exhibit contemporary art, although its architecture indicates that it was originally built in the 17th century as a church of the Dominican Order.
In 1216 Saint Dominic founded a community in accordance with a series of ideals, intended to operate as a horizontal system based on the values of democracy and cohesion for all its members. This required being in tune with local life and activities, and therefore a ‘general chapter’ or assembly was held every three years. However, despite holding clearly democratic principles and being one of the most intellectual of the religious orders, over the centuries the ‘Order of Preachers’ displayed frequent signs of intolerance, and there is undisputable evidence that it held ties with the Spanish Inquisition (my apologies for going so far back in time). This former church in Pollença, where we currently find ourselves, possibly reflects these internal contradictions, and the frustrated attempts to create a ‘bottom-up’ system eager to assume the principles of dialogue and responsibility.
We are in Majorca, where the first language is Catalan and where the Catalonia question, one of various challenges facing the Spanish state (corruption, votes of no-confidence, justice and the pension system), is a particularly sensitive issue. With regards to this situation, the gap between the various positions is widening throughout the country, making it extremely difficult to find a space for dialogue. In local terms, the islands’ residents seem to have their own agenda.
We are also in Europe, a continent where for the last ten years life has been shaped by a succession of political and economic crises, whose younger generation has been told that education is solely for the purpose of finding employment and that becoming a homeowner is a mere chimera. My generation, the millennials, occupies a territory that is particularly propitious for creating a state of mind cushioned by the media: we have been educated to study, work and perpetuate a model that our parents achieved only after a period of considerable tumult and commotion. Yet faced with a bleak outlook, one that I prefer not to delve into too far, which extends throughout much of the continent and is based on corrupt, protectionist, xenophobic, sexist and environmentally-unfriendly values, society has reacted, skilfully making use of social media to stir up public opinion by adopting attitudes based on open-mindedness and inclusion. Spain, particularly in the wake of the 15-M Movement, is the reflection of this new era in which citizen participation is flourishing and mass movements are once again emerging.
In contrast, a year ago I was in Athens, visiting the controversial edition of documenta 14 and meeting Danae Stratou in person for the first time ever. For me it was a stroke of luck; we discussed contemporary art due to the international exhibition I had come to visit, and politics, because for her, that is what life is all about. I grasped the serious nature of Stratou’s work and her vast capacity to influence political debate, reflecting all areas of contemporaneity and the perception the people have of their surroundings.
One thing led to another, specifically to her studio. A space with a view in which to work, overflowing with documents relating to her work and a hundred boxes, containing even more boxes. Danae spoke to us at length about her black boxes project, an installation comprising 100 aluminium voice-activated boxes. Since it was first opened in Athens in 2012, the exhibition has travelled to Krems (Austria, 2016) and Paris (France, 2017), spotlighting the concerns of the people that inhabit the various places it has been shown in.
This work, at once solid and mutable, is in itself an exercise in advanced democracy that can only be realised through citizen participation. In the months leading up to the presentation of the installation in each new location, people are invited to individually propose a word they consider represents a threat to them or gives them hope. Of all the words put forward, the hundred that are considered to be most representative are chosen and featured on small video screens, one inside each of the hundred boxes. The public’s active participation in the creative process means that the work varies from one exhibition to another, and from one country to another, highlighting the particular characteristics of each time and place, but also revealing those things that they have in common.
The rest is history: it is only natural that this artistic installation should be presented in Spain: on the one hand in order to support local democratic practice, and on the other to complete its function as a project featuring the reflections of a country that pioneered a series of crises that appears to be ongoing. From my position as exhibition curator, my greatest and most gratifying surprise has been the civic commitment of everyone that has contributed a word to the project. When we know that our opinion will be heard and appreciated, when the artist considers us to be adult and responsible individuals, then we take the chance to express our opinion seriously. In this case the boxes monitor our thoughts without intermediaries, as a means of liberating our silenced voices: the opportunity to express ourselves with so much freedom is quite simply extraordinary. I believe that all this is a true research discovery between art, democracy and political action: choosing just one word can be quite a challenge, yet there is not one that could be considered superfluous or proposed in vain; indeed, it is clear that there is a depth of reflection, albeit to varying degrees, underlying each word.
It is now the time and place to open the black boxes, for sharing and considering the ideas. The black boxes on aircraft, to which the title of this work refers, record and retain all the information relating to the machine and its piloting, and are normally opened following a catastrophe in order to discover what went wrong and how a similar situation can be avoided in the future. Although the hundred boxes comprising this exhibition represent society, the information they hold is equally precious: it is the voice of the people, expressing their concerns and desires. We mustn’t wait a moment longer.
Lifting the lids from the boxes and receiving the messages people wish to send us leads us to two essential reflections. The first is that over time, words change and acquire different meanings. Many of those featured have a strictly contemporary sense; they exist within our political and social context. I am referring to reflections that cover issues such as the environment, or others that refer directly to national politics. Words such as independence, post-truth or yellow, the latter symbolising the liberation of the Catalonian political prisoners – a new connotation for an eternal word. Five years ago, these words would have had a completely different significance, or perhaps none at all. Yet another discovery in this constantly evolving work.
The second reflection is that many of the words could have been proposed by people that are close to me: by my friends, my mother or even myself. They gave me the impression that they were proposed by people I knew extremely well, as I saw myself and my immediate community reflected in their fears and wishes. This confirms that deep down, in our true essence, we all share the same foundations and the same sense of worry, trepidation and hope. I am referring to the notions of family, envy, resilience and freedom.
It is an honour to have brought the contemporary art installation by Danae Stratou entitled It’s time to open the black boxes! to the Convento de Santo Domingo Museum in Pollença. It is truly awe-inspiring to think that this baroque church, characterised by its basilica plan, today houses a technological work: digital platforms have been used throughout the creative process, from the Internet which enabled people to participate to the electronic devices featured in the end installation.
At long last, this converted venue now hosts a participative proposal, just as Saint Dominic intended, and in three languages, enabling speakers of Catalan, Spanish and English to make their voices heard, and helping to lay the foundations for a new trans-European, reflective, participatory and tolerant community.
Pollença. June 2018
IT’S TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES!
museumkrems, Körnermarkt 14, 3500 Krems
September 9th October
During the 19th GLOBART ACADEMY the Greek artist Danae Stratou will present her multimedia installation “IT’S TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES!“ in museumkrems .
The vernissage will take place on the 8th of September at 6 pm. Danae Stratou and her husband, the former Minister of Finances of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, will be speaking at the event. Greece, Austria, Europe – the world is in a multiple crisis – economically, socially, politically. IT’S TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES!
This art project was a reaction to such a prospect. Distanced from traditional commercial practices, the art project aspired to undercut its own costs, to give voice to and to assist materially as many as people possible, to help attain a deeper understanding of our collective predicament, to empower a joint response to the paralysis that is causing us to ‘freeze up’. The project activated a dialogue constituting, in itself, a collective response to our multifaceted predicament. By opening the ‘Black Boxes’ we symbolically bring to light the words that reflect what threatens us the most, or that which we are desperately eager to preserve.
The installation comprises 100 black boxes geometrically positioned on the floor. The boxes were custom made out of thick black aluminium sheet metal. They are positioned on the floor equidistant from another, so as to form a rectangular grid covering an area of 100m2 situated at the centre of the gallery. The boxes’ lids are open at an angle. Inside each box a black screen is positioned at a 450 degree angle in relation to the floor. The boxes are surfaced with translucent mirrors, thus creating the illusion that they are filled to the rim with a liquid substance and that the screens within them are submerged in polluted water akin to an oil slick.
Upon entering the exhibition space the viewer is confronted by a mixture of sounds such as beeps, heart beats, explosions and flatlines. As one approaches and walks through the installation it becomes apparent that the screens inside the boxes are displaying words and numbers. Each word appears for a few seconds before being replaced by either a countdown or a countup (depending on the word). As the numbers race (down toward zero or up to a specially chosen limit), their pace, style and accompanying sounds resemble a ticking bomb. When the countdown, or count, reaches its climax, each box emits the sound of either an explosion or a flatline. These sounds are designed so as to intensify the sensation of tension, crisis, and alarm.
After the first presentation in Greece Danae Stratou is starting her global art project in an exhibition in museumkrems organized bz GLOBATE. The artist visualizes termini such as Family, Democracy, Immigration, Human Dignity, TTIP, Water, Respect and Populism, that were determined by GLOBART through an Austria wide survey. These answers represent the values that the Austrian population wants to conserve and what it is most afraid of.
Danae Stratou is an installation artist in Athens. Stratou represented her homeland in many Biennales in form of art comprised of digital, audiovisual and architectural components. Her work has already been shown in exhibitions in Venice, Valencia, Sevilla, Istanbul, Gyumri and Adelaide, among others. In 2010 she founded the NGO Vital Space, a global, interdisciplinary art platform that tackles current global problems. Through her marriage with the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis she offers an artistic as well as a political perspective on the current crisis. Together the couple aims to connect these worlds and dismantle the borders between politics and art.
GLOBART is a vivid alliance between art, science and economy. this year’s GLOBART ACADEMY – a thinking studio for issues of the future is taking place under the title „Realities?” from the 22nd to the 25th of September 2016 in Kloster UND in Krems.
Prof. Heidemarie Dobner
+43 676 428 17 28
Wien ~ Goldschmiedgasse 10/3/3 ~ Tel +43 1 534 62 87 ~ Mobil +43 676 428 17 28 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org ~ www.globart.at
Wien ~ Goldschmiedgasse 10/3/3 ~ Tel +43 1 534 62 87 ~ Mobil +43 676 428 17 28 ~ email@example.com ~ www.globart.at
Imaginé par Marc Dondey et Franck Bauchard, Lanceurs d’alerte est le premier rendez-vous donné par la nouvelle équipe de la Gaîté Lyrique à son public. Une exposition, des spectacles, des performances, des conférences et des projections se proposent d’explorer, avec la complicité d’une quinzaine d’artistes* et jusqu’au 29 janvier, la figure du lanceur d’alerte et le rôle essentiel devenu le sien dans un monde hyperconnecté et en mutation, soumis à la manipulation des données et menacé par les dérives de la surveillance. Les Allemands !Mediengruppe Bitnik vous invitent à visiter la chambre de Julien Assange, fondateur de Wikileaks, réfugié à l’ambassade d’Equateur à Londres depuis juin 2012 ; le collectif Peng! se propose de vous mettre en relation téléphonique avec un espion – un vrai ! – afin de lui poser les questions de votre choix ; la plasticienne grecque Danae Stratou déploie quant à elle It’s Time To Open The Black Boxes, une œuvre collaborative conviant chacun à livrer un mot résumant le mieux ce qui l’effraie, le menace le plus ou ce qui, selon lui, a un besoin urgent d’être protégé… Samedi 28 janvier, de 23 h 30 à 5 h 30, les femmes seront à l’honneur avec l’invitation faite à Missy Ness, Deena Abdelwahed, Nur, SkyWalker – quatre femmes respectivement tunisiennes, égyptienne et palestinienne, qui expriment leur rébellion à travers la musique –, d’animer la nuit. Plus d’infos et le programme complet de la manifestation.
* Winter Family, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Yes Men, (LA)HORDE, Danae Stratou, Peng! Collective, Valérie Cordy, Anne Laforet, Dorit Chrysler, Missy Ness, Deena Abdelwahed, Nur, SkyWalker, James Bridle, HeHe.
On October 10th, “Here and Now: A Creative Vision for Europe” will bring Brian Eno, Srećko Horvat, Danae Stratou, Bobby Gillespie, Rosemary Bechler and Yanis Varoufakis together at the Platform Theatre of Central Saint Martins to consider the role of culture in the fight for the future of Europe. With a range of performance, presentation, and discussion, the event will invite citizens to help shape a new politics of culture – in Europe and beyond.
The event will start with an aerial straps piece by Kit Hill, which sees her indicate that perhaps the dystopian future already exists in the present and that the two might in fact be a mirror image of one another. Mary Fitzgerald, Editor-in-Chief of Open Democracy, will be moderating the event. Igor Stokfiszewski, who is representing the DiEM Voice team will be presenting the cultural policy paper process. The event is organised by DiEM25 + DiEM Voice, and supported by Creative Unions, a CSM initiative supporting artistic collaboration across borders.
Ignorance can, and often is, the price we must pay to live better. I do not need to know how my phone works to benefit from it. All I want is that when I dial Danae’s number it is Danae’s phone that rings. How the machines involved, both the individual phone and the network, achieve this is neither here nor there. Indeed, if I invested time and mental energy in understanding what exactly goes on in the various devices surrounding me, I would have to do without other types of understanding that I value a great deal more.
In engineering terms, I have just stated that, to me (as to most people), my phone is a black box: a device or system whose inner workings are opaque and whose only function I understand is how it turns inputs (e.g. my dialling a certain number) into outcomes (Danae’s phone ringing). Come to think of it, my wife’s mind is also, to my own mind, a black box: even if I were a leading neuroscientist, I would be utterly in the dark on the electro-chemical process that led her to put together this installation. Moreover, possibly because I know it to be an impossible task, I harbour no ambition to understanding truly this particular electro-chemical process.
From this perspective, we are surrounded by black boxes. However, not all black boxes are as benign as my phone. Besides phones and humans, companies and states can also be seen as super black boxes. No CEO, let alone a more lowly manager, can ever get the full picture of how each and every decision is reached within his company. Bankers never truly understood the contents of the CDOs and the array of toxic derivatives their banks were churning out (and then hoarding to boot) as if there was no tomorrow. Taking matters onto a higher level, consider the example of the United States. More often than not the State Department, the White House, the relevant Senate Committees operate without much coordination with one another, yet manage to produce policies that the rest of the world recognises as… US ‘government’ policy.
The difference between these black boxes (CDOs, corporations, banks, government) from my humble phone is encapsulated in a single word: power. Not the type of power associated with electricity or the crushing force of the ocean but another, subtler, power: the power to write the agenda, to determine the conversation, to implant desires into our soul, to channel the flow of information along the existing grid of social power, to draw us into the network that determines how our society works and, alas, fails.
In 2008, our world descended in the cauldron of multiple, persistent, spectacular failures of the various power ‘networks’. Europe proved the weaker link and, within it, Greece the weakest. However, even before any of that transpired, our planet had entered an irreversible trajectory towards environmental degradation. With this multilayered Crisis upon us (its economic and environmental facets being the main but not only ones), and given the high concentration of power, it is almost tempting to attribute it to some sick conspiracy among the powerful. Images spring to mind of smoke filled rooms, with heavy furniture and cunning men (plus the odd woman) planning how they shall profit at the expense of the common good. These are, of course, delusions. If our sharply diminished circumstances are to be blamed on a conspiracy, then it is one whose conspirators do not even know that they are part of a conspiracy. That which feels to many like a conspiracy of the powerful is the emergent property of closed networks, of the super black boxes of social power.
Super black boxes take many different forms but, in essence, they are similar: Whenever a politician in the know gives a journalist an exclusive in exchange for a particular spin on the goings on, the said journalist is appended, subconsciously, to a network of insiders. Networks of social power thus control the flow of information in a manner that excludes, co-opts and guides its individual members. They evolve organically, as if under their own steam, and guided by a supra-intentional drive that no individuals, not even the President, the CEO, the persons manning the pivotal nodes, can control.
The key to power networks is exclusion, opacity. If some bank’s employee comes by inside information that is potentially damaging to the bank, whistle blowing, e.g. leaking it to the press, will immediately dissipate her chance at keeping some ‘power’ to herself. But, if she exchanges that ‘secret’ with private information held by some other cog in the machine of finance, then the power of this spontaneously generated pair is multiplied many-fold. This two person de facto conspiracy then forms alliances, via further information exchanges, with other such groups. The result is a network of power within other pre-existing networks involving participants who conspire de facto without being conscious, conspirators. Fascinatingly, some network members, the ones that are only loosely attached to the network, are utterly oblivious of the network that they reinforce (courtesy of having very few contacts with it).
Conceived of as ‘networks of power’, as ‘conspiracies without conspirators’, the powers-that-be with the power to control our lives (the state, corporations, the media, banks, organised pressure groups etc.) are nothing more than a pile of super black boxes: No one understands how they function, not even the individuals at their helm. Yet they are the ones that convert all of our inputs into social, economic and environmental outcomes. Crucially, unlike our phones (that we may legitimately not give a damn to understand; to open up and inspect their inner workings), opening these super-black boxes has now become a prerequisite to the survival of decency, of whole strata of our fellow humans, of our planet even. Put simply, we have run out of excuses. IT IS, therefore, TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES!
Why now? Why at all? Which boxes should we open? We need to open the black boxes now because 2008 was our generation’s 1929. Moreover, the past decade has seen the effective brewing of an environmental Armageddon. Unlike my phone that works perfectly, and which I have no cause to open up, our global social economy is broken. And so is our planet’s environment. The super black boxes that have been running the show since the 1970s are kaput. No longer able to auto-correct, powerless to reproduce conditions for decent living, these super black boxes must either be opened up or they will consume us, and the generations to come, into some dystopic black hole.
How should we do it? First, we need to acquire a readiness to recognise that we may very well, each one of us, be a node in the network; an ignorant de facto conspirator. Secondly, and this is the genius of Wikileaks, if we can get inside the network, like Theseus entering the Labyrinth, and disrupt the information flow; if we can put the fear of uncontrollable information leaking in the mind of as many of its members as possible, then the unaccountable, malfunctioning networks of power will collapse under their own weight and irrelevance. And then humanity will get another chance to organise an escape from its current cul de sac. Thirdly, by desisting any tendency to substitute old closed networks with new ones.
None of this will be easy. The networks will respond violently, as they are already doing. They will turn more authoritarian, more closed, more fragmented. But this is OK. They will, no doubt, close up and fragment in order to stop the ‘break-ins’. They will expend greater effort at hindering the opening of their black boxes. They will become increasingly preoccupied with their own ‘security’ and monopoly of information, less trusting of common people. However, the more they move in this direction the more seriously they shall deplete their capacity to attract and centralise that which makes them tick: fresh, untainted, plentiful information from people that have not yet been co-opted.
None of this is, of course, new. In his fabled The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli, an early exemplar amongst the advisers to the powers-that-be, advised his Prince never to allow the popolo a glimpse of what evils were brewing inside the black boxes of his time.[i] His was, admittedly, a more innocent time when it was still excusable to think that centralised power and information would smoothen humanity’s passage to the good society. Tragically, the tide has gone out on such optimism. State-controlled centralisation got its comeuppance with communism’s collapse in 1991, a turn of events that saw the multiplication and reinforcement of the ‘other’ side’s black boxes, with the Crash of 2008 being the natural conclusion of such hubris. Today, amidst the pessimism of our post-2008, to quote Slavoj Zizek, “we face the shameless cynicism of a global order whose agents only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights and so on. Through actions like the WikiLeaks disclosures,[ii] the shame – our shame for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by being publicised.”
Danae Stratou’s new installation goes one step beyond shaming and exposing. It turns the black boxes into art objects that simultaneously encapsulate our angst and hopes, our helplessness and our capacities, our inhuman constraints and human capabilities. Her opened boxes act as a subversive incitement not only to counter our fears and the powers-that-be at once but, additionally, to fashion ideas of new forms of shared power and prosperity.
[i] Thus it happens in matters of state; for knowing afar off (which it is only given a prudent man to do) the evils that are brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow until everyone can recognize them, there is no longer any remedy to be found.
(The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli [1469-1527])