Balloon is excited to welcome guest writer Thomas Mader, a multidisciplinary artist based in Berlin. Mader has shown internationally and written for publications like Dossier Journal, Underscore Magazine, and Curbs & Stoops. For his recent public intervention “Balloon”, he handed out 1000 helium balloon drones in Salzburg/Austria and New York. “Balloon” will be shown in a different format, as a collaboration with video artist Christopher Michael, at ÑEWMERICA’s show “Birth of a nation” at Exit room Gallery NY, opening on the 3rd of April.


by Thomas Mader


In the early 2000’s, when camouflage patterns came back into fashion, some concerned voices could be heard talking about the dangers of introducing military symbols into a civilian context, and thus normalizing the otherwise aggressive connotations these patterns represent.

The people speaking out against this phenomenon were labeled ‘overanxious’, insofar as their arguments being dismissed by the mainstream as irrelevant or conspiracy theory babbling.

The discussion, however, made me recall my first trip to South America and how shocked I was then, not only for seeing armed solders pretty much wherever I went, but also because of how much of a mundane sight they were to the civilians of their respective countries.


I understand that the military is much more present in an everyday context in the US than it is in many European countries, that it has a different status and a different appreciation, but I also think that it is important to not simply ignore the topics that surfaced in this camouflage fashion discussion. Because not only have I seen how literally camouflage had camouflaged itself, but also how quickly these hidden aggressive potentials can snap back into action and cause extensive damage.

…these hidden aggressive potentials can snap back into action and cause extensive damage.

The downplaying of violent symbols and control mechanisms by introducing them into a mainstream context is a very powerful tactic and we can witness its effects every day.

When Street Art was still relatively underground, the image of the surveillance camera was a warning symbol speaking out against the massive introduction of surveillance mechanisms in public spaces. As the medium got more mainstream attention, its symbols gradually lost their meaning.

A stylized stencil of a surveillance camera now no longer functions as a warning, it just means that Street Art, at least in its most widely recognized form, has become an easily consumable product.


The medium’s symbols have become so iconic that they no longer contain any significant meaning. They merely serve as a business card for the medium itself.

This development was not necessarily propagated in a conscious way by the creators of the medium, but rather by those who recognized its potential for mainstream appeal and marketability.

In my opinion, a similar phenomenon can now be observed when it comes to drone technology. Almost every other week various YouTube videos show the advances in miniature drone flight and control capability. Companies like Amazon and DHL use drone parcel delivery as publicity stunts and remote control drones have long found their way into toy stores, allowing people to steer them using their iPhones or PSPs.

The technology seems democratic and there for all to use but how much the powers that be really feel the need to control said technology became clear once again when the whole extent of the NSA surveillance program in Germany was uncovered.


The spying post the NSA had used to spy on top level German politicians, including chancellor Merkel herself, was, and to my knowledge still is, situated right on top of the US embassy in Berlin, smack in the political center of Germany, a mere stones throw away where the chancellor resides and the parliament assembles.

When the Sueddeutsche newspaper and NDR, a regional German TV channel, included drone technology in the research of their joint venture titled “A secret war”, their use of camera drones immediately resulted in police presence where reporters were forbidden to use the drones and had their personal data taken down.

…reporters were forbidden to use the drones and had their personal data taken down.

This discrepancy between seemingly democratic technologies and symbols and their inherent exclusiveness pertaining to a more or less invisible elites works as a sort of Trojan horse.


People are being offered to use and enjoy certain symbols but they always incorporate the potential that an elite will take them away from the general public whenever they deem fit, or use them to ensure their own safety and status.

Of course, the same goes for certain online services and in their case almost always the well-known Internet rule applies: If it is for free, you are the product.

On that note: Here is your free balloon. Enjoy!


*”Balloon” was made possible by “Basics” festival in Salzburg/Austria.

Art & Animals: An Interview with Giovanni Aloi

-2In Giovanni Aloi’s groundbreaking book, Art & Animals, the reader is asked to look critically at the way in which animals – living, dead or in representation, have been and are increasingly used in contemporary art. Dealing with identity, “otherness” and down the roots of civilization itself, the book is insightful, inspiring and yet very worrying for anyone involved in the creative industries, or anyone who is concerned and fascinated by animals and the environment. Aloi’s honed analysis is informed by almost seven years of experience as Founder and Editor in Chief of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. Giovanni and I spoke via email:


JOSHUA KATCHER: We deal a lot with masculinity on The Discerning Brute, mainly from a critical perspective regarding the illusion that exploiting animals is a reflection of strength and virility. In your book you refer to natural history dioramas as “a violent subjugation of nature, a typically masculine endeavor, manifestation of the deep desire to possess and control nature, arresting life in a three-dimensional photographic capture designed to educate and inspire while also demonstrating human supremacy over nature”.  Where else do you see conventions of patriarchy being sought out in the art world regarding our use of animals? In your book, Zang Huan’s muscle/meat suit seems to have avoided a machismo interpretation.

GIOVANNI ALOI: This is a very interesting question. That quote from my book is substantially informed by the writing of Donna Haraway, her famous essay on taxidermy titled ‘Teddy Bear Patriarchy’, and was needed within the main context in order to reflect the current predominantly negative, cultural approach to taxidermy. I still believe that statement to be very much true when considered with regards to the golden age of taxidermy (late Victorian period) which led to the expansion of natural history collections around the world. The synergic conflation of gun, camera, gaze and the desire to possess involved in taxidermy of the golden age predominantly was the resultant of traditionally masculine perceptions and attitudes towards the wider world, not just animals. As aptly pointed out by Hogart in the famous series of engravings titled The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751), what we do to animals, we are likely to do to other humans…in a literal or metaphorical sense, I would add.

Since the writing of the book I have been further developing my views on taxidermy (a project that will be published next) and most especially on its ambiguous presence in contemporary art. The current revival of taxidermy is a much more complex phenomenon that some claim. In my opinion it has less to do with a sense of guilt for colonialism, a reparational practice, and much more to do with where we are right now, culturally and historically. Continue reading “Art & Animals: An Interview with Giovanni Aloi”

Fracktured Lives: Art that asks, WTFrack?

On Monday October 15th a group gathered in Albany to show their support of “responsible gas drilling” in New York. Apparently, hundreds marched to a park near the Capitol for speeches lead by elected officials and labor leaders. The group says that there are jobs being lost by the inability to frack. In this economy, many are left wondering why there is not more initiative by both private and government organizations to boost jobs. It may be true that fracking would create jobs, as well as decrease the cost of natural gas, but is it worth the trouble?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth. A special fracking fluid, made up of water and several chemicals is forced into the sediment in order break up the shale and create new open pockets for the natural gas. Through fracking, natural gas can be extracted at a much higher rate than traditional methods, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. This drilling process can take up to a month, while the drilling teams delve more than a mile into the Earth’s surface. Once created, these channels are cased in cement to prevent the gas from leaching into groundwater. Fool proof

You have most likely seen the viral videos of people lighting their faucets up in flame, which is said to be one of the many issues with fracking. While studies are still in process, it is believed that the chemicals used during the fracking process leach into groundwater, contaminating well and drinking water. These chemicals are toxic, leaving the water undrinkable as well as flammable–which leaves me to wonder how useful a fire-hydrant will be in a contaminated area during housing or wild fires. To further the issue of contaminated waters, we don’t even know what the chemicals are:

“In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole. ” [Gaslands]

Being able to ignite your tap water should probably be enough reason to hold off on fracking, at least until proven or made safe. It gets better worse: It can take 1 million to 7 million gallons of water to free up natural gas during fracking [Gaslands]. Processed with chemicals, these millions of gallons become waste! The Earth is made up of mostly water, that doesn’t make it drinkable. And while I love Tank Girl as much as any 90s kid, unless my friend is a talking Kangaroo with serious rapping skills, a future without  proper drinking-water doesn’t seem very fun. We have technology to clean water, we can filter and purify salt water, one day we might even be able to purify that waste water back into drinking water but we can not eliminate the toxins in ground water.

*All rights to images are reserved by the artist

Where we might be able to survive on clean bottled drinking water, how will plants and animals survive while drinking from polluted streams, lakes, and rivers? In turn, how will we eat?

What can we do?


That is what a rather large group of artists are doing in the upcoming Bullet Space exhibition Fracktured Lives in LES NYC. Currently the work can be seen up at the School of Visual Arts, where the posters were printed, but the work will be on show at Bullet Space (292 E 3rd Street New York, New York 10009) for the month of November. The works are all silkscreened posters in editions of 50 at 20 x 23 inches. Each artist created a design commenting on Fracking, varying from the information heavy to a quick jab and great emblem of the movement against hydraulic fracturing.

There are some very beautiful images and moving pieces in the show, but more importantly these are works that will help make the Earth a healthier place for all life. Obviously, postering the city or displaying one of these designs in your window will not reign in energy businesses or even congress. However, it will begin a conversation. We need to stay informed about the toll we take on Earth. Is a larger resource of Natural gas worth polluting groundwater, let alone the convenience of clean water? We need to keep a dialogue open and assess the cost analysis of fracking on the state of communities and the world as a whole.

Or to put it simply, the power is yours!

A Tree Grows… In Silos?

image courtesy of Ken Wolf

This is not a new phenomenon; plants and trees have rooted where ever habitable, but recently The New York Times wrote about trees taking root in the shelter of abandoned silos.  There is even a Flickr group devoted to these trees.  The oldest photograph in this group dates back to the summer of 2008.

Dwindling agriculture, through the rise of major factory farms, caused many family farms to close.  As The New York Times states, “because it can be more expensive to tear these down than to leave the task to time, they are left to teeter.”  The collapse of small farms left silos barren for decades.  They became free for mother-nature to re-imagine herself.

It brings me great joy to see nature reclaim these structures.  Perhaps, now more that ever, with the Mayan Calendar ending in 2012, people often wonder about the end of the world–but it is a misnomer.  The world will not end, just the era of man.  Earth is a resilient planet. It has transformed and replenished itself over and over, and these silos are just a sprinkling of its possibilities. Though it has moments of ridiculousness, there was a series on the History Channel called Life After People that goes in-depth on how nature may reclaim the structures. It has twenty episodes, ranging from the fact based ideas of trees growing in crumbling buildings to cats learning to fly. Can’t wait.

image courtesy of Ken Wolf

These images are also striking, especially when seen on flickr, in their resemblance to the stoic imagery of German photographer team, Bernd and Hilla Becher. This prolific duo created clean, objective documentation of industrial structures built with function over form, or as they say, ‘buildings where anonymity is accepted to be the style.’ Though their subject is often bleak looking, there is a lot of design and humor in these works. The structures are usually displayed in overwhelming grids. In a grid, the seemingly ordered pipes and rails, that flood the composition, turn chaotic and confusing. This quirky eye can be seen in the snapshots of trees growing in silos as well. The flat landscape and isolated structures feel cold and clinical. The structure has a impenetrable feeling. Yet, tuffs of tree branches peak out from the open tops or cracked sides of the these cinderblock behemoths. The juxtaposition of deteriorating structures and the natural resilience of trees becomes a punch line to man’s hubris…

Or, with much less schadenfreude, they can be seen as a friendly reminder: As we try to pull ourselves out of the fiscal and environmental recession, perhaps we should return to natural living try and mimic the ecosystem. After-all, it has persevered at least a century of direct destruction, pollution, yet continues to grow.

Contributor Brad Silk is an artist, curator, hedonist, and unprofessional who has worked with New York City galleries since 2007. He is Assistant Director at Numberthirtyfive Gallery ( and will be working with HEREarts Center ( and Art Connects NY ( As an artist and curator with both commercial and not-for-profit spaces, he has a unique view into the art world.

Oil Spilling and Spilling and Spilling

Sea Turtle + Oil Spill by tsand.

PPATH has daily “BP Dead Animal Count” updates. Today, it’s 53,850!

What The Public Can Do To Help Wildlife Harmed By The BP Deep Horizon Spill.

  • • Contact United States Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar at either (202) 208-3100 or and inform him that you want US Fish & Wildlife Services, not BP, to command all aspects (and related communications) regarding the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife effected by the Deep Horizon spill.
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  • • Contact Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno at (202) 514-2701 and request the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the United States Department of Justice bring suit against BP for violation of the Endangered Species, Marine Mammal Protection, Migratory Bird Treaty and Clean Water Acts.
  • .
  • • File a Freedom Of Information Act Request at Request information from US Fish & Wildlife and Marine & Fisheries regarding all the harm done to wildlife and ecosystems by the Deep Horizon spill, as well as BP’s involvement in the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife and restoration of wildlife habitats.
  • .
  • • Support PATH’s ongoing efforts to advocate for and protect the animals and habitats of the gulf by visiting