A screaming comes across the sky – behind the scenes as we install our biggest show of 2014
21 October 2014
Personal notes on the installation and launch of Lighthouse-curated group exhibition at LABoral, Gijón, by Fiona Fletcher, the exhibition’s Project Manager.
In early October, our Artistic Director, Juha and I were thrilled to land in the town of Gijón in Northern Spain after many months of preparation and planning for new exhibition A screaming comes across the sky – Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars. The show is a major international collaboration between Lighthouse and LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación A huge 14,000 sqm space, LABoral was opened in 2007 on the site of a university built in the 1950s by architect Luis Moya. The centre is a multidisciplinary institution that produces, disseminates and fosters access to new forms of culture emerging from the creative use of ICTs.
We recorded the week of the install and launch, in which we joined the incredible team at LABoral, plus artists from the show, for a great week.
We arrive at LABoral and once again, we’re blown away at the scale of this beautiful gallery space. It is so enormous, we worked with exhibition architect Miroslave Rajic, who also worked on the exhibition design for Juha’s previous show Dread. Great to get settled in and to see Miro’s specifically designed walls ready for the week ahead.
We spend Tuesday installing Martha Rosler’s Theater of Drones, a monumental protest against drones that she staged in Charlottesville in 2013. It looks stunning, and forms the perfect introduction to the complex and grave subject of drone warfare. Visitors now enter the exhibition ‘through this work’: not only is it the first work shown, it also sets up the premise for the entire experience and understanding of the show.
Acting Head of Exhibitions at LABoral, Maite Blanco, who we’ve been working with closely for the past few months, takes us through the final decisions to be made on the install – from where to place Alicia Framis’ taxidermy ‘drone pigeon’ to the matter of encouraging 14 beautiful and haunting sculptures by Roger Hiorns to foam. Maite is on secondment from The Museo Picasso in Málaga and brings a wealth of cool-headed experience to the installation process, alongside a welcome dose of humour. When we leave at around 9pm, more than seventy-five per cent of the show is ready.
Today we welcome artists Mariele Neudecker, James Bridle, Graeme Thomson and Sylvia Maglioni (terminal beach) to see the final installation of their work. Some final tweaks are made to the sound for Blind Data – a video by terminal beach, which Graeme describes as "both a take on the blind date of the romance of war, and the inability of data to actually see”.
Back in town, we take a look at a newly painted MQ1 Predator Drone Shadow located in the port of Gijón. The work has been painted by local practitioners using James Bridle’s: Drone Shadow Handbook, which can be found here. A brilliantly simple and poignant reminder of military technologies, as James Bridle reminds us: “We all live under the shadow of the drone, although most of us are lucky enough not to live under its direct fire.” We work late into the night with the fantastic technical installation team hired by LABoral, led by their in-house perfectionist David Moran. The details are important, so we work on the lighting of the exhibition, especially for the cloud formation of foam sculptures by Roger Hiorns, requiring special love and care. When we leave after eleven, everything has been meticulously installed. We have a show!
We gather at LABoral in the morning for our first press conference for the exhibition. Joined by a full house of local and national journalists Juha provides a thorough introduction to the curatorial framework underpinning the show. He then gives the first of many multilingual, guided tours of the exhibition.
The press admire the variety of work and comment on Metahaven’s graphic work Silent Dazzle – a contemporary take on a type of ship camouflage used extensively during WWI & II. Silent Dazzle is compared to Picasso’s Guernica, the famed depiction of metaphysical horror from the skies.
Lunch is piled up plates of paella and a generous dose of traditional Asturian ‘sidre’ which is poured from a height and downed in one! We meet Milan based Italian art critic Lorenza Pignatti who writes for Art Review among others.
Later in the day, Juha gives an interview about the show for local TV station RTP and is finished just in time for the opening, which is a warm and lively reception.
On Saturday there is a live-streamed programme of public talks and discussions. Accompanied by the dark mono music of Stephen O’Mally, Juha talks about this being his second major show about drones and includes a clip from comedian John Oliver berating the language used in classified documents, such as those released by NBC news. Oliver highlights the dubious criteria used by the US military to judge “imminent threats” and drone fatalities. As Juha puts it “as often in tragedy, humour can be the most fearless messenger”.
Admitting that his original motivation was the ‘dark glamour, magnetic quality’ of the drone, James Bridle follows with a fascinating talk suggesting that just like the network, technologies like drones become unquestioned and politically and morally invisible, tuned to surveillance and silence.
Mariele Neudecker speaks briefly about her work in unpacking the physicality of drone technology, the human relationship to the machine, and what so-called facts are feeding our perception of drones.
The talk ends with a panel discussion with the artists, hosted by Barcelona based academic Paloma G. Díaz (UNCOVERING Ctrl). Terminal beach discuss the impetus behind their fascinating works The Clouds of Unknowing and Blind Data arguing that "More and more people are un-piloted drones themselves, without any agency, driven by code.”
Lot Amorós joins the discussion. An artist and activist with work in the show, Lot talks about the history of communication technologies as a history of surveillance, and describes his motivation to reclaim control, to defend democracy.
Paloma Diaz asks, “what role and responsibility do artists and an exhibition like this offer in terms of public awareness of these issues?” Sylvia from terminal beach responds that artists can “disarm and disrupt flows” of assumed knowledge and create a new space for thinking and revoking accepted discourse.
One of the LABoral FABlab team seated in the audience highlights that there is a civilised use of the tools of military technology that can shine a positive light on drones – he prefers the term ‘multicopters’ and suggests that we should value alternative uses of the technology, for example, to seek out new trekking routes or the advancement of commercial piloting.
We end our final day with a beer in the sunshine overlooking the lush Asturian landscape – a strangely atmospheric mix of tumbling tyrol-esque mountains alongside a few mediterranean palm trees – as Graeme from terminal beach puts it “it’s quite Ballardian really”!
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