Beautiful Robots (2008)

“Without any meaning, we’re just skin and bone, like beautiful robots dancing alone”

- Untouchable, Girls Aloud, 2008


In the film, Transamerica, a transsexual person appears to be part machine. Like clockwork, the body must be tuned, appendages added and subtracted. Like fuel, hormones must not run out. The mechanized body at work defines the functionality of sexual transformation. Doctors use the term “gender dysphoria” to scientifically intimidate the legitimacy of this mechanization. In the transgender glossary, a trans man distinguishes himself from what he calls “bio” boy, short for biological male or what is explained as the “dialectical slang for a factory equipped male (one born with penis)”. It is in the privileged intersection of gendered body parts that plastic surgery becomes a technology of both body and gender. However, plastic surgery for gender reassignment, or GRS as it is called, does not create the stable spaces of body or of mind that popular rhetoric, even at times in Transamerica, suggests. Further from simply altering the physical body (machine) to correspond with the desired sex (mind/soul), plastic surgery interrupts the borders so that there is in fact no stable distinction between machine and biology, or between body and soul. What I mean to suggest is that the transsexual body offers a way out of the false centering of human according to the idea of being “alive” and “biologically existing”. In its place, human can then be considered in terms of the non-human or of the artifact, the mechanized, or the robot.

We can see the primacy of the conditions of “alive” or “biological” in the common assumption made about transsexuals: they are born into the wrong body. This suggests that things would have been fine if their bodies matched their trapped souls. Felicity Huffman’s character, Bree Osbourne, is trans female in that she is a woman born with male anatomy. She cries to her mother “Mom, you never had a son”. Like other forms of cinematic transsexuality, such as Boys Don’t Cry, such films offer the “born into the wrong body” mantra as the overall narrative arc while teasing out the social and emotional tensions within finer narrative detail. One need not elaborate on how these may function to reassert hetero-normativity; transgender groups already resist this by providing the idea of “gender fuck”, where they combine in their appearances and behavior, both female and male traits. To the effect that it interrupts the conventional forms of gender, perhaps gender fucking does its job; but it remains that the grammar of gender-fucking – dress, emotion, behavior – draws from the heteronormative. In order to really move beyond hetero-normativity the body cannot simply be fought in terms of gender because gender, whether activist groups will admit or not, can never be divorced from biological conditions.

This is where the impasse must take a more productive turn. The question is not whether he or she, but one of “it” and “its”, between that of machine and cognition.

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SPBH 2013 @ ICA

I picked these up at the Self Publish Be Happy fair at the ICA this year.image

Clod Magasine #24 – A5, B&W photocopy, £1

This one had me cackling like a loon. Clod was created in 1987 – back when zines were still called fanzines – by the now split Luton-based, DIY indie band, Thrilled Skinny. Clod mag is the unofficial publication for fans of medium-sized towns and ‘ham sambucas’. They also write haikus about Luton and have since formed other bands such as The Knockouts. A ‘proper’ zine brought to you via stapler, scissors, glue and £1 price tag, Clod is a neater incarnation of that lo-fi tradition of 70s punk fanzines. It’s driven by satirical and often very funny content rather than aesthetics (although its cover page looks artfully put together), which means spilling your ale on the mag probably only improves it. The readers’ letters page is my favorite - a conversational element of small press that I often miss in newer zines. Read it whilst sat in a pub; plus more about their other publications at


Photograph Converted into Base64 Code - A5, B&W print, £5

In theory, you can only see the images in this photo zine by Matthew Birchall, winner of the Café Royal Award 2012, by scanning the pages of this zine, do a text-scan to extract the code and run it through a piece of software that will decode (or encode??) it for you. Too much hassle? That’s precisely the point. I’m no programmer but I can do a pop-media explanation: I think Birchall wants to make us aware that any photograph is a thing that is an aggregation of smaller bits (Base64 binary data), which can be re-combined into other things that will relate back to this thing. In philosophy, they use this approach to study objects. Very future-thinking zine. Definitely one for the OOOs.Pricey for a single-idea experiment though (£5), I would count it more artist booklet than zine. Available also at Good Press Gallery.

Short reviews of two zines I picked up at South London Zine Fest 2012.

RCA Highlights

Can’t remember the last time I sweated so much in one cycle - hottest Sunday of 2011 so far!

Took Shelby II to Kensington to see the RCA show today. Few bits of work really stood out for me from the MA Communication Art & Design. First, Joseph Pochodzaj’s Language-Analysis: he analyzed speeches made during the financial crisis by government and/or trade unions, using discourse analysis from micro (e.g. most frequently used words) to macro levels to comment on the communications strategies used for the purpose of social and political power.

Another: The Red Tape Series was also a very satisfying exhibit for me. It was a nice combination of audio, video and print to create a sort of ‘learning corner’ in which visitors can listen to recordings, browse books and pamphlets and view the graduate design work that came out of the series. From March to May this year, students organized a series of lectures and talks to instigate inter-departmental conversations about salient topics in art and design practice such as ownership, protest, performance, fiction, and curating. Speakers in the series include The Yes Men, Mark Fisher, Nina Power and Neville Brody.

[However, listening to Brody speak in one of the Red Tape Series audios was extremely frustrating. (Yet again!) He talks about ‘warfare’, ‘foot soldiers’ and ‘battleground’ without any real reflection on the protest events he is referring to. His ideas seem permanently couched in simplistic military metaphors and circular reasoning. He seems to be recycling - without edit! - to the same schemes of cultural resistance he used in the 80s.]

On a more pretty note, I enjoyed Cat Roissetter's bleak and evocative etchings - on the wall, these weren't very big but seemed wonderfully portentous in their fine detail and texture.

I would like to see more of this on Grand Designs (and less of Kevin McCloud)

Last week, Vinay Gupta came to WSA and gave an interesting guest lecture about Open Hardware Shelter Technology. He showed us Hexayurts, these geometric, six-sided, plywood shelters he reckons could help solve housing challenges for the world’s climate refugees. I thought they look super:

I think it’s a great design solution and idea for a pretty complex humanitarian issue.

What’s more, they look so cool I want to build one and stick it in my garden. Problem is, I don’t think my garden is big enough for a metallic Hexayurt (and a silver space-sphere thingamagig).

This got me interested in yurt-living. And I can most definitely imagine myself living in this:

Or this:

I am no hippie by any means but this is soooo much better than the cramped up, measly “charming studio flat” estate agents try to flog to you for stupid hundred thousands of money. Apparently you can buy a yurt in the US for anything between USD4000 - USD10,000. And you can make it yourself - the Mongolians make it look extremely doable. Forget fleur-de-lis wallpaper, Georgian fireplaces and Kevin McCloud’s shit hosting; I think yurts are the way forward, plywood ones for humanitarian purposes and lux ones for us to rid the world of evil estate agents.

Source Code *spoilers here*

Just watched Source Code at the cinema - entertaining and pretty exciting. Bit cheesy at times, but the hotness of Jake made up for it. However, I didn’t get the ending. It wasn’t as complicated as Inception. In fact, it was pretty straightforward until the end. Looked it up on wikipedia and apparently it has to do with something called quantum immortality where by if one dies in a reality, it is possible to live in another reality and this process is triggered by a shift in space-time continuum.

I’ve never been very good at working out time travel related sci-fi - something like the Time Traveller’s Wife stumped me for a while after the 1st read - so I am a little tedious in working it out. My understanding of time continuum is similar to the one Doc explains to Marty in Back to the Future: time as this river flow with us swept in it; i.e. reality is explored as something linked to our actions but as an objective externality shared by many.

In SC, things are a bit different. Reality is expressed as memory/consciousness. One dead guy’s 8min residual consciousness produces a reality that is parallel and distinct to another dead guy’s 8 min residual consciousness. So there is no objective reality since you cannot prove that your reality is exactly the same as your mate’s reality. In other words, reality - the sum of space + time - is less of a space-time continuum and more of a continuum amongst many other continuums; a kind of simultaneous, cotemporaneous, plural, multi-dimensional mish-mash of the result of many people’s consciousnesses producing realities that will never meet.

Erm, it’s something like this. I’m not really sure. I did read a New Scientist article about the problem with the question of whether artificial intelligence - robots - have consciousness is that it is impossible to prove one is not the only conscious being amongst a world of zombies.

mind boggling.

So SC is not the traditional kind of time travel like in Back to the Future - however, Jake was kind of travelling across time because he was travelling across different consciousnesses. He was going from one continuum to the next. Or that he created a whole new time-space continuum - reality - that emerged from the sum of his consciousness + another guy’s consciousness?

Bowie’s kid is damn clever.

Comica 2010

Went to Comica at the Royal National Hotel this afternoon with O and J. We were greeted by a 70s hotel made of textured concrete, grey marbling and wood-panelled walls. The festival sprawled over three conference rooms of carpet that follows the same design principles as public transport upholstery. Odd place, you think, for a comic/zine fest …

As we entered, I was immediately struck by the crowd and the stall holders. No double-denim trendies, but sort of middle-aged (mostly) men standing behind heaving boxes of graphic novels from as early as the 1950s to early runs of Penguin books and Doctor Who. Yellowed pages flanked by collectors in fleecy jumpers. Bearded men in canvas gilets and check shirts who had lovingly kept every comic in plastic pockets and some enshrined their copies of Spiderman and Walking Dead in pyrex slides. I loved the atmosphere - I’ve never seen so many over-40s in one room so animated about science-fiction, marvel comics and zines! I wanted to speak to everyone of these collectors whose boxes must be full of stories of marvellous childhood passions.

Without the rare privilege of their oral history, I must be content with some of their printed souvenirs. I bought a 1978 copy of Pizzazz - a magazine published by Marvel Comics from 1977 to 1979 - which seemed like a early forerunner to Grazia+Private Eye. Also bumped into Hugh at Landfill Editions who had some larger tabloid-size format publications that looked really amazing! In the zine room, I bought this lovely book with a screenprinted cover by Jonathon Rosen called “Intestinal Fortitude: Depictions of Anatomical Blasphemy”. Rosen’s drawings of macabre creatures with all manner of medical / surgical instruments joining up limbs and bodies; looked like an homage to nineteenth-century science and H R Giger.

Happy days!

Lil League by our very own Gordon Armstrong

We’ve always said we love (him and) his drawings, and we still do. Lil League looks like what happens if punks and badass mofos took over a game of baseball - pretty phat league, bro!

This little zine is a ten-page addition to Gordon’s already burgeoning visual repertoire here and here. His illustrations have an amazing line quality that might have something to do with his love of the tattoo aesthetic and discipline. But far from being academic, his doodles are irreverent, authentic and always cracks me up.

41 Televisions

(sorry, I know my photos are crap - I’m working on it, promise)

41 Televisions is a zine-ic exploration of technology. It’s made by the good folks at The Newspaper Club - which is a rather fabulous website that helps people create their own newspapers - and Conway + Young, a design collaboration based in Leeds. They are both lecturers in Graphic Arts, and do loads of projects that “combines education, art and community engagement, and [working]
within local areas, engaging with creativity and art in many forms and contexts”. Working with students in workshops at Warren Primary School in Nottingham, the result is 41 Televisions, a newspaper supplement which also works as a standalone zine.

41 Televisions is a series of visual takes on various inventions such as the vinyl record, the abacus, the computer, the wireless radio and all the machines that has expanded our ability to create. The aim was to get students “to challenge and question their relationship with technology”. The end result, made of found-images and hand-drawings, works really well and is more provocative for its purpose than using a ‘proper’ format because 41 Televisions, I think, aims to capture the emotive rather than impressive impact of technology on our lives. It is more involved with ideas rather than polished layouts and images; 41 Televisions is funny, engaging and er, impressive. More projects can be found on their page here