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Needle in Haystack Found: The Story of an Artwork Lost at Sea
by Andrea Alessi

When Lotte Geeven released two floating robots into opposite sides of the Atlantic last fall, she questioned the probability of them meeting within such a tremendous space and hoped to learn about the ocean by following their paths. “The moment the two robots touch the water,” she wrote, “the project's outcome is entirely ruled by the forces of nature.”

Four months into the project, what she’s learned instead, and perhaps knew all along, is that oceans will do what they want—and so will humans. On top of the vicissitudes of ocean currents, Geeven can now add the denizens of a sleepy North African port town to her artwork’s improbable story.

127109 & 127110 project website

I reported on 127109 & 127110 last September, when Geeven released the eponymous sensory robots—spherical buoy-like objects with submerged GPS sensors—into the Gulf Stream and Canary Current, some 7,000km apart. Collaborating with oceanographers from four marine institutes, Geeven chose the times and locations of their deployment to give her robots the best possible chance of reuniting in a year’s time in the center of the Atlantic, carried passively by the opposing currents.

Anyone who’s been tracking the robots in real time on the project website will have a sense of the epic scope—and the seeming futility—of this challenge. Traveling hundreds of miles, though very much still near their respective coasts, 127109 and 127110 have been thrown off course by tropical storms, dragged in mysterious and short-lived straight lines, and stuck twirling in a Bermuda Triangle holding pattern. Nevertheless, they were generally making progress until December, when 127109 was pulled in a direct line off the coast of Morocco into the small port town of Asilah, about 31 km from Tangier.


Geeven was in Chongqing, China, working on a related project when she realized, to her horror, that 127109 was headed aground. She made immediate plans to travel to Morocco with filmmaker Heidi Vogels to learn what happened and hopefully recover the missing art object.

Easier said than done. 127109 is equipped with GPS sensors—a dream for anyone with a target gone AWOL—but four days before Geeven and Vogels’ arrival, the signal went dead. 127109 was truly lost. It might have been destroyed, dismantled, or—best-case scenario—perhaps it had been stationary long enough that it had simply gone into standby mode.

The fisherman / lucky finder with 127109

What they ultimately found, after three days of inquiries, disheartening speculation, and evasive answers, was the story of a local fisherman. He’d had an unproductive day at sea and was about to head home when his radar detected something. He discovered what looked like a buoy and beneath it, thrashing around in the net of the sensory devices, were dozens of fish. The “buoy” returned to shore with him, where it disappeared.

What did he and the people of Asilah think of the project in which they’d unwittingly picked up supporting roles? Receptive, it seems: Geeven’s luck in finding 127109 changed only once they'd understood it as an artwork. Language was a huge barrier; initially people thought she represented a foreign scientific agency, and she made little progress with Asilah residents and local authorities. Then she remembered a French translation of a press release she had describing the artwork. When she handed it over to the police chief to clarify her mission he was touched by the artwork’s gesture—mais c'est magnifique… c'est poetry!—and the possibility of the robots’ reunion. He wasn’t the only one: the fisherman who found 127109 had initially hidden it and was reluctant to come forward, but he ultimately understood the project, telling Geeven it was the will of Allah that he had found it and could return it to her.

Geeven with the found 127109 outside of the police bureau

Around the time the robots were deployed Geeven said, “I am interested in the chance of an encounter, but also in a possible failure.” What does this terrestrial detour mean for an ostensibly ocean-based artwork? “The abstraction of the journey has been broken by an epic intervention,” she says, and this “changes everything.” 127109 & 127110 started with humans as mere observers, but “suddenly it was personal and I was part of a work. Literally.”

Geeven’s work has always dealt with mapping, storytelling, the blending of subjectivity, fact, and fiction. “Creating a work,” she says, “for me is like writing fiction in reality.” Asilah became a sort of improvisational theatre onto which the story of 127109 played out, its occupants the unsuspecting cast in this staged reality. The fisherman’s story about how he found the artwork was fantastical and absurd “but I choose to believe him. Just like me he is a storyteller; I came all the way to Asilah to meet another storyteller.”

Fishermen in Asilah

The errant robot’s diversion raises a lot of questions, many at the intersection of art and science. “Is there coincidence? Is there such a thing as destiny?” Geeven asks. Are the odds any greater that the two robots meet in the middle of the ocean, or that a lone fisherman comes across one of them and brings it ashore? What does this intervention say about the autonomy of “nature” in an epoch in which humans have an ever-increasing effect on the natural world?

Geeven plans to make an art documentary with this, and other footage from the duration of the project. 127109’s journey doesn’t end here. An American research vessel will be stopping by Asilah to pick it up and place it back on track—with lots of new followers, keenly watching its progress across the Atlantic. In the course of its wayward travels 127109—once an agent for visualizing the force of nature—has become “almost mythical. It now has a place in the collective consciousness of a Moroccan harbor city.”


Andrea Alessi


(Image at top: Asilah fishermen with 127109; All photographs: Heidi Vogels; Courtesy of Lotte Geeven and Heidi Vogels)

Posted by Andrea Alessi on 1/16 | tags: gps Fishermen atlantic ocean art robots Morocco asilah ocean currents 127109 & 127110

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It's not the intended destination. It's the journey or rather the story of the journey.


Short Film Program IFFR: An Alternative Stage for Artists
by Edo Dijksterhuis

Last year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, a Tiger Award for Short Films was won by Sebastian Buerkner, alumnus of the Chelsea College of Art and Design. In 2013, all three Tiger Awards in this category went to artists: Beatrice Gibson, Erik van Lieshout and Zachary Formwalt. And it could happen again this year. Twelve out of the sixteen eligible films carry the “art” label.

When the IFFR shorts program started some ten years ago, the organization deliberately choose to focus on productions made in the margins of the traditional film industry. Most international festivals for short film—Oberhausen, Ghent, and Clermont-Ferrand come to mind, as well as Go Short! in The Netherlands—show cinematic narratives created by certified filmmakers. But the hunting grounds of IFFR-programmers include biennials, galleries, museums, and artists’ spaces. They also do a lot of studio visits and personally stay in contact with artists throughout the year. It’s the artists themselves—and not a producer or distributor, as is usually the case in the world of cinema—who submit their films for festival selection. Every year the IFFR-programmers assess no fewer than 3,500 shorts, ultimately selecting 150–200 of them for one of the festival’s six special programs.

James Richards, Raking Light, 2014

Nina Yuen, Raymond, 2014

Melanie Bonajo, Night Soil: Fake Paradise, 2015


The most important of these programs is, of course, the Tiger Awards Competition. This year’s entry list yields quite a few regulars from the international art circuit. Only a couple of months ago James Richards won the prestigious Hamlyn Award and was nominated for the Turner Prize. His Raking Light, a sizzling poetic meditation on the medium of film, is a good candidate for a Tiger Award. Raymond by Nina Yuen debuted at De Appel only a year ago. And Melanie Bonajo—in competition with a hallucinatory visual essay on feminism and eco-consciousness—stepped into the limelight when she won the first edition of the MK Award in 2013. But there are also some lesser-known names, such as the cross-disciplinary collective The Propeller Group based in Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles.

Rainer Kohlberger, Moonblink, 2015

Karl Lemieux and David Bryant, Quiet Zone, 2015


Only a quarter of the competitors consider themselves filmmakers and not artists. Without exception these are “experimental filmmakers,” however, descendants of Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, and others who stretched the idea of film way beyond the realms of mass entertainment. Rainer Kohlberger’s Moon Blink was created using no camera but only software, resulting in a digital artwork that refers to the classic abstract films of the 1920s. Quiet Zone by Karl Lemieux and David Bryant was shot on chemically corroded celluloid, which lends the tale about electromagnetic hypersensitivity a scary touch of surrealism.

Tommy Hartung, THE BIBLE, 2014

Jon Rafman, Mainsqueeze, 2014


A number of works in competition have previously been screened at art venues: Tommy Hartung’s THE BIBLE, for example, featured in December at On Stellar Rays in London. And Jon Rafman’s Mainsqueeze was part of a group show at the Future Gallery in Berlin. In order to be included in the IFFR program works have sometimes been converted from installations to single screen versions, which can be a pretty radical adaptation. But artists are eager to crossover into the realm of cinema and willing do so. During the shorts program (January 21–26) the Lantaren/Venster theater is packed with 138 short filmmakers from all over the world, looking for new contacts and collaborators. Cinema is the new frontier for artists, the film theater an alternative stage for their work.

But only a few artists get the opportunity to step into the world of commercial filmmaking. In an attempt to help them the IFFR started the Art:Film program two years ago. As part of the co-production platform Cinemart a few selected projects—this year it’s Cactus Flower by Hala Elkoussy, Hurrah, wir leben noch! by Agnieszka Polska, and Mr. Sing Sing by Phil Collins—are presented to producers, potential investors, and sales agents. Moreover, artists are coached about how to deal with the dynamics of film production, which are very different from making art. Film production is aimed at reaching the largest possible audience while art often dels in exclusivity. Most films are co-produced and draw their working capital from a wide array of sources. In order to make a film a financial success producers have to invest in marketing and wooing international sales agents. These phenomena are largely unknown in the art world.

But even with the most intensive counseling and matchmaking not every artist crossing over into cinema succeeds at becoming the next Steve McQueen, or even equaling the modest success of Sam Taylor Wood’s Nowhere Boy or Gillian Wearing’s Self Made. For Nicolas Provost things started off pretty good when in 2012 his film The Invader was selected for the Venice Film Festival. The thriller about an African illegal immigrant searching for a better life in Brussels subsequently traveled to Rotterdam, where it was picked up by a distributor with high hopes of scoring an arthouse hit. Only a few weeks after its release, however, the film made a quiet exit. Repeatedly, the regular film theater circuit has proven itself not to be the most conducive environment for experimental, artistically inclined films. Artists with big screen ambitions are mostly limited to festivals. But even so, an average festival venue will easily accommodate more viewers than any gallery.


Edo Dijksterhuis


The International Film Festival Rotterdam 2015 runs from January 21–February 1, 2015, at several locations in Rotterdam. More information about the program and schedule here.


(Image at top: The Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014, Film still)

Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis on 1/19 | tags: video-art Film festivals short films art films tiger award international film festival rotterdam IFFR artist films

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