Radical DIY: LA's Machine Project

Mark Allen, founding director of Los Angeles' Machine Project, talks about their recent projects, with a focus on the interdisciplinary practice at the core of Machine Project's philosophy.

Vacations for plants, concerts for dentists and car theft workshops for children are a few of the recent performances produced by Machine Project, a non-profit cultural space investigating art, technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food in an informal storefront in the Echo Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Outside of the storefront, Machine operates as a collaborative group of artists producing shows both locally and internationally at museums, beaches, and parking lots. Machine Project's founding director will give an informal presentation of recent projects and programs, with a focus on the interdisciplinary practice at the core of Machine's philosophy.


Mark Allen is an artist, educator and curator based in Los Angeles and the founder and executive director of Machine Project. Under his direction Machine has produced over 1000 events, workshops and installations. Prior to opening Machine, he was involved with several alternative arts groups as a curator, board member and director, including the Los Angeles new media collective c-level. He has taught at the California Institute of the Arts and the University of California San Diego, and is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Pomona College. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York, and served for three years as a member of the Artist Advisory Board of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Mark received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, following a residency with the Core Fellowship of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

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Marching Plague

A film that presents a strong critique of UK-US bioweapons research

Filmed on location on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, Critical Art Ensemble’s film Marching Plague presents a powerful critique of UK-US bioweapons research and addresses the paranoia surrounding bioterrorism. It centres on the recreation of secret sea trials conducted by the UK government in the 1950s.

In May 2004, FBI agents and the Joint Terrorism Task Force raided Critical Art Ensemble founder Steve Kurtz’s home, seizing art works and research materials for the Marching Plague project. The US government has yet to produce evidence that Kurtz is a bioterrorist, but they refuse to return the seized materials. Despite this, Kurtz was able to reconstruct the research and produce Marching Plague, commissioned by Arts Catalyst, and an accompanying publication, published by Autonomedia (2006).


Marching Plague

In the early 1950s, plague research trials took place off the Isle of Lewis at Stornoway Bay when, having already decided that germ warfare was of no use on land, the British military began to explore whether germs could be used as a naval weapon for ship-to-ship combat. Their tests found that germs were unreliable and unmanageable on the sea as they were on the land.

The film's ultimate aim is to address and dispel some of the public's fear of "bioterrorism", which has been greatly exaggerated since 9/11 (even though that attack had nothing to do with the use of biological agents). This exaggerated fear is based on incomplete awareness of the facts. Moreover, this type of fear has been exploited by governments over the past eight decades to initiate biological warfare programmes at enormous cost.

As the United States returned to an astronomically expensive policy of offensive and expanded germ warfare research, the film revisited the lessons already experienced in regard to the development and use of this technology. It tries to convey a more reasoned perspective about the level of risk to the public as well as the desirability of germ warfare weapons (even within the logic of the military) than is usually presented in more "sensational" fiction or even in television docu-dramas. Finally, the film aims to show how such programmes compete for the limited resources necessary for research in global public health, and emergent infectious disease.

Bioweapons experts and artists, including Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon, join Steve Kurtz, Steve Barnes and Lucia Sommer of Critical Art Ensemble to discuss bioterrorism, the culture of fear and artistic censorship.

Screenings & Installations

4 Mar 2006 AV Festival, Newcastle, UK

Mar - May 2006 Whitney Biennial, New York, USA

28 Apr 2006 Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre, Lochmaddy, Isle of North Uist,

Outer Hebrides, Scotland

28 Apr – 1 Oct 2006 The Culture of Fear, Halle 14, Leipzig, Germany

24 May 2006 Eyebeam, New York, USA

30 May 2006 Lewis Film Society, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK

29 July 2006 ICA, The Mall, London, UK (event, film screening, talk)

29 Jul - 5 Aug 2006 ICA, The Mall, London, UK (installation)

Sep 2006 AFI, Seoul, South Korea

Lens Political. Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland

The Royal Danish Art Academy, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon, Israel

Days of Bioart 07. Espacio de Consulta_Centre d'Art, Santa Mònica, Bacelona, Spain

NEGATEC. Espacio Fundación Telefónica, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Stavanger Biennial, Norway

Free Party. Moscow Art Center, Moscow.

Public Moment. Art Forum International, Seoul, South Korea.

On the Edge. Aarhus Kunstbygning.

Biennial of Electronic Art, Perth, Australia

Link to artists' website

Critical Art Ensemble

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Art and the Atomic State

A discussion event to accompany the Atomic exhibition.

Panelists: Artists James Acord, Carey Young, Mark Waller with Keith Franklin, BNFL, Mark Ramsay, Imperial College Radiation Safety Officer, and Helen Wallace, Greenpeace. Chaired by Nicola Triscott, Director of Arts Catalyst

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