Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eyes to Fly With: Gaciela Iturbide

I normally don't pay much attention to photography, but I came across the Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide's work, and it is so incredibly striking and poetic. I think that this is when image is most powerful: when it captures a vivid moment's story and all the myths within it. There's more, and it is hauntingly beautiful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A conversation with Michi

Last night I was introduced to Michael Zeltner, a new media artists from Vienna who currently resides in London. He works with Graffiti Research Lab and is best known for his Ear Cinema project. We had a long conversation about his work, new media art, my work and general tips on how to make it as a new media artist.

Most of my art network is composed of people who consider themselves secondarily as artists and/or approach their work from tech or design perspectives. So it was refreshing and stimulating to engage with someone who is passionately involved in the new media and makes complex, conceptually driven work, working only as an artist.

When Audrey Penven introduced us, Michael was working on Shifts, his current project. Shifts is an installation centered on a photo of the back of Michael's legs, which have symmetrical waveform tattoos. A horizontal thread will scroll over the photo as the sound of the waveforms plays, referencing an audio player, while his blood spurts from a hole in the photo. Comfortably hanging out at Noisebridge, he was debugging his beagleboard (a Linux system with audio and video out, a little larger than an Arduino) to playback the sound and control the motors.

As for making it as an artist, he encouraged me to submit my work widely, answer as many calls for art as possible, network with artists, and collaborate with people who are more well known than I am. "It's like social engineering." He recommended not showing for free: "Be arrogant." He also emphasized the importance of including patrons in the process and keeping them abreast of one's work. He seemed to like my work, but pointed out that my projects don't all come through clearly and vividly on my website.

He ranted a little about new media art in the US, criticizing the all-too-common technical emphasis at the expense of articulated conceptual discourse. Certainly, there is a distinction to be made between artists and technologists. Borrowing largely from Bourriaud, I consider that distinction to be the creation of meaning, a goal I strive for in my own work. I, too, am sometimes annoyed by what I perceive to be an over emphasis of what is novel at the expense of what is poignant.

Michael is certainly making work that is both technically cutting edge and visceral.

Friday, December 4, 2009

IR Webcam 2

I modified a second webcam to receive only infrared using an exacto, tweezers, film negative, vice grips, plastic wrap and this recipe.

IR eye from Mary Franck on Vimeo.

The plastic wrap was a stroke of genius: I didn't have any glue. The focus on this one is much better than the last, I think I should take that one apart again and adjust it. IR allows you to see people without annoying video feedback. Does nothing for their looks, though.

The halls smelled like highschool

...body spray and hormones. I was at Galileo Academy to visit my friend Benjamin Chun's AP Programming class as a guest speaker. His students have been working with Processing, as have I.

I spoke to them about combining art and technology, being an artist, showed them documentation of my work online, and had them play with Gaze. They were into it.

I had set up a camera and a projection screen before the students came in, and when I finished presenting my work, they got to use data from a computer-vision maxpatch via OSC and implement it in a Processing sketch. I got to deliver the programmers the technical solution and they got to make the art.

And those smart, vivacious kids made cool stuff! It was special.

Photos by Benjamin Chun

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Martha Colburn - Puppets of the Apocalypse

I was invited to the SF MOMA by my wonderful friend Bex for Puppets of the Apocalypse, or Martha Colburn, Live Cinema. Accompanied by live music and vocals we watched her hilarious hand-made collage animations of remarkably disturbing social and political content.

Her technical work is amazing, she obviously spends years in the studio hand painting and cutting scenes and puppets-- flat paper characters with jointed limbs. She mines our culture and historical myths, incorporating found images of Jesus, soldiers, cowboys, Bin Laden, characters from the Wizard of Oz, prosaic puzzles, etc., assembling them into jarring, cluttered action scenes. Pretty intense.

Myth Labs may have been my favorite, combining images of meth labs, Jesus, users, pilgrims and Native Americans. It's weird and has a rich and absurd visual aesthetic and narrative.

The music was, as Bex said, "SO cacophonous." There were vocalists, a saw/violin player, a drummer, pianist, and a guy doing entirely weird sound effects, and definitely having fun.

It was fresh and tactile and analog, sort of the antithesis of overproduced super technically complex digital art.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ben Rubin: Language As Data

Last night I saw Ben Rubin present his art for the Art Technology and Culture talks at U.C. Berkeley. I had seen "Listening Post," probably Rubin's most well-known work, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts a couple years ago. At the time I hadn't heard about scraping the web, and the piece felt to me like it was tapping into our collective consciousness.

Influenced by Noam Chomsky's theory of language, most of Rubin's work consists of applying computer algorithms to a body of text (the Internet, the NY Times, Shakespeare), to parse from it phrases, which an algorithm reorganizes and displays on vacuum fluorescent displays. The display units, arranged into arrays, light up like old-fashioned tickers in choreographed patterns. Or, in the case of the "Shakespeare Machine," the text is arranged as colliding vectors in space.

His work intrigues me in a few potent conceptual ways which make it an admirable example of new-media art. First, it's a lovely example of art as data analysis of things that would otherwise not be analyzed. (Some of his other work is based in the sonification of data.) Information as aesthetic object is so hip right now.

Second, it carries forward the thread of art that has been exploring semiotics (so postmodern!) into the digital technology. I've been reading Wittgenstein and I see Rubin's work as decontextualizing language by rendering it into pieces then recontextualizing it in a new language game. The meaning of the related phrases is created by the viewer. Rubin experimented with having performers deliver the phrases, and found that it didn't "work" as well, though he had trouble articulating why. It seems to me that the Art in his work lies there, in the viewer creating the meaning. When an actor reads the phrases, they are interpreting the phrase and creating the meaning and delivering it to the audience, which as series of nonsense is uninteresting.

Third, the process of his work is related to conceptual strategies of Dada, Fluxus, and Sol Lewitt, in that is a systematized method of art-making relying heavily on randomness. Those artists used those methods to remove their own aesthetics from their art-making.

Rubin makes the distinction that in his work the words are not chosen randomly (like John Cage), rather, systematically by a computer. He chooses among the algorithms (applying his sense of aesthetic) by how well they work to create meaning or generate feeling. The meaningfulness is the aesthetic criterion.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Language, meaning, aesthetics and art.

Big topic, small post.

I've been reading "Philosophical Investigations" by Wittgenstein which is (surprisingly) very approachable and pleasant to read. The most essential idea I have come away with so far is that "the meaning of a word is its use in a language."

This no doubt inspired Nicolas Bourriaud 50 years later in saying (in order to answer the question 'what defines art and the artist?') that, "The act of showing suffices to define the artist." and that "Art is an activity consisting in producing relationships with the world with the help of signs, forms, actions and objects." That is, art and the artist are how they function.

Our application of aesthetics, then, should be to the function of the art, to its effect, independent of the art [object, act, concept]'s own qualities. Not that this is a stretch. An art object is beautiful because it is pleasing to the eye. The art concept is beautiful because it touches on a dissonance in the mind or culture.

This is what I want to keep in mind in my own art-making, less how effectively and beautifully I can make an object, but how effectively and beautifully I can affect people.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Undulation of Movement and the Perception of the Machine

I have been working on a collaboration with LEVYdance, taking to new levels my skills with computer vision and interactive video programming.

I've come a long way with handling video input to get good video for tracking, using IR to avoid video feedback and combining different kinds of video processing to best suit my tracking purposes. I use the IR video, then apply background subtraction or frame differencing, which allows me to locate the dancer and quantify their movement. I generate video within Max/Jitter that is determined by the dancers' movement and also export their location to Processing, where drawing algorithms which change over time swirl around and stick to the dancers.

I'm now to the point of pinning down and debugging exactly the tech that the project needs, expanding everything I have worked out into the work itself. At the same time I am fleshing out the actual video content to be detailed, shifting, beatutiful, and conceptually interwoven with the choreography and the text.

Chunky Move's Mortal Engine

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I have so many swirling thoughts

More fun with video subtraction, now with flocking algorithms.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Arthur Ganson "Machines and the Breath of Time"

I attended Arthur Ganson's talk, "Machines and the Breath of Time," presented by the LongNow Foundation at Fort Mason.

It was beautiful, each piece so elegantly engineered. Ganson's exquisite mechanical art was matched only by his zen-like explanations: "all of these machines are self-portraits," "[I don't make machines that are utilitarian, I make] machines that are contemplation."

His wire machines, like line drawings in motion, play with repetition through time and space. They create complex poetic paradoxes and parables of immateriality: of infinite speed and fractional gravity. My favorites are Machine with Concrete, Margot's Cat, Cory's Yellow Chair, and Machine with Wishbone.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anomaly Installation for Park(ing) Day

Digitally interactive parks are the Future.
I set Anomaly up for Park(ing) Day this year. Park(ing) Day, established by ReBar, is a day where people reclaim the streets by converting parking places into parks.

Anomaly is an interactive installation: a steel bicycle tree made entirely of scrap metal and bicycles which controls digital media. My friend Yosh made digital birdsong and designed how it would be controlled in Ableton.

Overall it was a success. People really enjoyed it, it was a little different than the other Park(ing) Day installations, which typically feature more prominently urban design. The random socially-interactive quality of the event reminded me of Burning Man in a way I really liked.

It didn't take too much work, just a little preparation and some sensor-repair.
Ideas for future installations abounded, as did ways to tweak the control parameters to make it less of a shifting aural landscape and more of an instant-feedback instrument. It would be easy to collaborate with more sound artists and musicians now that I know how to connect Anomaly to Ableton. It also reinforced my desire to put more art on the street.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Passing Conversations, An Improbable Monument

In San Francisco's Union Square would be installed as an ephemeral monument Passing Conversations. This would me a monument the lives of everyday people who pass through the square, represented in the random ephemeral phrases of their conversations captured by the microcontrollers and projected as text on the surfaces of the space. This reflects the dynamic, shifting aspect of our public spaces and translates to a visualization how people and language pass through space.

“Within the rhythms of a city, monuments become like a strobe light: they have the capacity to freeze moments of time, capturing the vectors of our experience for our examination and contemplation. Monuments have the capability to pass on, from generation to generation, memories and events that have transpired, and thereby contribute to the creation of a collective cultural consciousness.”

As a transitory monument, it passes on digitally captured experience to the next passerby, the experience a trace in the sand which fades relatively quickly. It is a monument on a compressed timescale, collecting moments and their, re-displaying them as a trace of their presence.

The microcontroller would record sounds above a certain volume threshold, transmit them wirelessly to a nearby computer where sound would be analyzed with speech-to-text programming. If the recording was what it determined to be language, it would be converted to an image of the text and transmitted back to the microcontroller and stored. These bits of conversations we will call language strings.

After dark the microcontroller would project language strings from the day and continue to collect more strings. At night when it received a new string, the new string would be immediately projected. Giving passerbys the satisfaction of automatic feedback and thereby making it clear what the project was. This would encourage people to leave messages for future passerbys. It would do this in many languages. Each microcontroller would have the capacity to store about 100 strings, and would write over them randomly, so most strings would be from that day, but some could conceivably remain in memory for a week or more. Each unit would cost about $400, plus the cost of the main computer, so an installation of ten of them would cost $4,200.

This monument is inspired by Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, the work of Krzystof Wodiczko, The Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry of Media Labs, and “Microphones” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

This is Improbable because the technology is not quite here yet. Specifically speech-to-text in this situation would probably have low accuracy, which could only be partially filtered by programming. Microcontrollers are not used to give images to projectors.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Response to Bill Viola Videos

In class Thursday we watched Anthem (1983) and The Space Between the Teeth (1976) by Bill Viola, an excellent artist to study for the theme of Time.

Anthem was a pretty random assembly of subject matter: a tree in a forest, heavy machinery, a girl, surgery, x-rays, oilrigs, a flag, people on the beach. Throughout was the slow sound of the girl screaming.

This sort of non-narrative abstracted video sequence is not engaging. It requires one to sit with the piece without convincing one to do so.

I wouldn't make something like this, and I don't think other people my age would either. I would pick either something experiential, which I would not present as a film, or I would make something that is more direct, cohesive, appealing, or visually exciting. Art is past the point of being abstract, obscure, or inaccessible. It is no longer about the artist or even the art object, it is about the experience of the viewer. Or so I generally think. Few, few people would take the time to watch a film like Anthem when there are millions of other things on YouTube.

It's important to break away from convention in art, but I value narrative as a primary mode of human understanding.

That said, Viola has a way of making one spend time with the piece that was especially apparent in Anthem. His revealing of rythmic visual details long enough for one to be with them but mostly not to the point of one being bored (with that particular scene) before cutting to something new is skillful. He has a way of revealing beauty over time that is breathtaking, even if this was not one of my favorite of his pieces.

The Space Between the Teeth had more narrative, and agian worked with rhythmic assembly of shots in an intimate way. There was something so bizarre about what was happening and simlultaneouly incredibly mundane. I liked that, I felt like his yells in that context embodied the sort of existential angst I sometimes feel. The random inclusion of the scenes from the kitchen with the TV noise is a lot of where I get that context.

This is the first I've been exposed to Viola's earlier work. I've seen some of his work of the last two decades that was pretty simple and beautiful and touching, about meditation and spirit, life and death, more direct and sincere somehow in their immediacy. They seem to have shed the extraneous parts of his earlier work and very elegantly work with time to move the viewer. The Passing, 1991, is one of my favorites.

LoveTech Sept 12th

LoveTech is a monthly event that showcases live electronic musicianship, and, increasingly, digital video and interactive art.

Last night's music included Edison, Moldover, Vapor Mache, Mad Zach and R2 the Specialist.
There were VJ mashups by CSTING SHDWS, MZO, and Mediapathic, a crazy music-controlled hologram animation-generator called Hologlyphics by Walter Funk, and my own piece, Gaze, an interactive video installation.

The evening started with TradeMark of the Evolution Control Committee talking about his sound installation for the Burning Man base. He used very similar strategies to those I have been using for Carbon Garden and Anomaly. He made it in Max, but generally thinks that Max is unwieldy for music. He mentioned some interesting things like the California Library of Natural Sounds at the Oakland Museum.

The musicians pretty awesomely incorporated handmade and modified electronic instruments, one of the best applications for physical computing, surely. It was a real cornucopia of good beats.

The event was great for meeting people/networking and getting technical suggestions for the piece. I'll definitely go again.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Self-Perception is an Illusion

It is the process of examining the self that frees us from it.

I made this video in Max/Jitter. It's a recording of the video of an interactive installation, "Gaze," a program plus a projection.

Using video tracking, "Gaze" explores new possibilities of the gaze through digital technology, suspending the subject/object dichotomy as the work looks at you. The effect is a juxtaposition of intimacy and surveillance.

I continue to be fascinated by the aesthetic and social possibilities and implications of digital technology which I explore through interactivity programming, digital video, and physical computing.

"Gaze" is achieved with a combination of computer-vision face-tracking, video positioning, loop-points, and chromakey.

I'll be showing it tonight at LoveTech at Il Pirata and at the ATA Film & Video Festival in October.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: De Montreal:Videos at the ATA

Last Friday I went to De Montreal at the ATA, which presented the work of nine Montreal-based video artists. I thought that overall most of the films spent too long saying too little or were too oblique, but a few of them were interesting.

The first, "Where Time is the Protagonist" by Ilinca Balaban was an 8 minute series of unrelated video mostly of lockers and people bowling and bowling pins and a racecar video game. It was slowly paced, and isolated the objects in the video. It "eschew[ed] formal linear narrative for a more surreal and abstract depiction of imagery culled from the everyday... Human activity is rendered impotent..." Which was visually interesting for about 30 seconds. I spent the first 7 minutes wondering why I was being presented these languid shots of inanimate things, mildly annoyed by Balaban's indifference to me, the viewer. Then in a section of racecar video game the pixelated passenger in the car asks the driver with a speech bubble, "What were you thinking about?" And the driver replies, "I was just trying to figure out where we're going." Which made me reflect on my own mental process while watching the film.

I have recently been evaluating art I see on how it affects me and other viewers/partcipants, as important a metric as formal aesthics and conceptual and cultural significance. By this standard my favorite was "Don't Laugh" by Valerie Boxer, where Valerie, wearing big plastic gorilla teeth admonishes the camera person not to laugh while she eats a banana with the fake teeth. It was funny, especially as she claimed on film to be trying to get into the character of a monkey and the whole banana-eating process didn't go well.

The best was the last film, "Pine" by Ali El-Darsa. The film was moody and out of focus. The cinematography was lovely and functioned well as metaphor. A man comes home to his apartment, through the dark halls of the apartment building. He goes into the bathroom, looks in the mirror. The video comes into focus as he looks at himself, leaning over the counter to the glass, and then out of focus. He takes off his clothes and gets into the bath, and the film cuts to what could be his fantasies: he and another man making out naked. This cut is focused, some bedroom with daylight, with that raw ametuer porn-style of filming. Our protaganist ejeculates and the film cuts to him alone in the dark bathroom, mulling over the sex scene, out of focus. The shots of his face out of focus were especially poigniant. It was pleasant to have such sensical narrative after the "abstract" and "non-linear" films preceding and the content was raw, direct, and human, rather than the obtuse, oblique, removed preceding films such as ""

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Response: "Seeing the Past in Present Tense"and "The Eiffel Tower"

I have been chewing over monuments, leaving teethmarks in bronze, turning them inside out to pin-point what they do and fail to do, even when quite well intentioned. Site and culture specific with hints of propaganda, these disembodied distillations of History carved in marble are so silent in their eternal gaze.

Paula writes in Seeing the Past in Present Tense of a Holocaust monument in Harburg, Germany, Monument Against Fascism, War and Violence--and for Peace and Human Rights (1986).

"The monument... was a forty-foot-tall, three-foot square rectangular structure made of aluminum and sheathed in soft lead. The designers attached styluses to the monument and encouraged visitors to sign their name on the surface of the structure, in effect, signing a contract of responsibility. Between 1986 and 1993, the monument, with all the signatures it carried, was slowly lowered into the ground on hydraulics. Downstairs through a glass slit in a metal door the monument and some of the signatures could be viewed. Finally, only the top of the monument remained visible from the surface... I visited the site of the Harburg monument recently and found that it has been profoundly and resolutely forgotten."

Yet even the more typical monument, huge in plain sight, is forgotten, looked past as we move through space, commemoratives of things we don't care to remember. The Dewey Monument, in Union Square, for example, is to commemorate Admiral Dewey's victory over the Spanish Navy at Manila. How many Union Square shoppers are aware of that? The monument's significance fades into oblivion.
Often in other cultures, and occasionally in our own, monuments are tied to specific ceremonial activities. This happens when monuments are the site of rallies, protests, or state-sponsored national celebrations. These gatherings and ceremonies serve to re-activate the monument as culturally significant in a similar way that ceremonies of parading (such as Semana Santa celebrations) or washing (as of the Buddha during New Year celebrations) of religious sculptures serves to constantly activate them symbolically in the religious community.
The Vietnam Memorial functions in this way, constantly activated by those who go there to rub names or leave flowers.

Roland Barthes wrote "The Eiffel Tower," published as part of Mythologies. The Eiffel Tower is so large that it is always present, it cannot be forgotten, and its simple shape open to attribution of meaning, an "infinite cipher."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Response: Screen Relations

Nicolas Bourriaud's theories of relational aesthetics are an important approach to contemporary art. His claim that art has departed from the conceptual traditions of the 1960s and '70s and begun something entirely fresh has created a stir in art theory. I read his book Relational Aesthetics which comprised a collection of articles he had written about art. They were all over the place, so for this class, I will respond to “Screen Relations: Today's Art and Its Technological Models.”

“Our age is nothing if not the age of the screen” (66). Art galleries today are full of screens, which allow for unprecedented combinations of text, image, video, interactivity and an abstraction of site via the Internet. Digitalization creates another layer of remove from the signified, another layer of simulation to the image, but also extends the mechanical reproduction discussed by Walter Benjamin into a new dimension. “... It is actually now possible to produce images which are the outcome of calculation, and no longer of human gestures. (69)” Which takes us from mechanical reproduction to mechanical production.

Bourriaud asserts, “art creates an awareness about production methods and human relationships produced by the technologies of its day. (67)” He goes on to claim that “the main effects of the computer revolution are visible today among artists who do not use computers...(67) ”and of those who do to create, for example, “computer graphic images:” “at best, their work is just a symptom or a gadget...(68)” I do not entirely agree with him. Making “computer graphic images” or models of flocking or what have you, is participating in technology. Using technology in the place of traditional mediums cements its momentous primacy as experiential medium. This participation will not garner recognition as an original, individual artist, but it is worthwhile to look past individuality.

What he argues is that, rather than creating representations, technology should be used in art to simulate and represent behavioral patterns and to “decipher the social relations brought by [technology]. (68)” Specifically, “art's function consists in appropriating perceptual and behavioral habits brought on by the technical-industrial complex to turn them into life possibilities... [or] reverse the authority of technology in order to make ways of thinking, living and seeing creative. (69)”

Relational artists, he continues, construct “models of sociability suitable for producing human relations. (70)” In my mind this is not unlike a program which produces an image.

How I would relate this to my own art practice is to use interactive technology to construct sociability models. To start with, the computer is intended to be used by the individual, perhaps as a portal to a social configuration, a medium by which we interact with each other over the Internet or a network. I am interested in rearranging those social format structures by allowing many people to interact with a single computer at once and through less conventional methods. i.e. by video-captured gesture rather than using a mouse.

The Internet seems to me like an incredible tool for collapsing space and site in real time. What's more, it renders antiquated the broadcaster/receiver dichotomous communication model of T.V. or radio by allowing for simultaneous broadcast and reception by all communicators. Working with that as a medium is great as long as it is interesting an not too abstract. I intend to use it to create remote access to the object of interactivity and direct control of the interactivity parameters wirelessly, in the presence of the object. I am also interested in the ways that programming and the Internet can function as time-sensitive channels of dialogue with participants.

The trick to all of this, if one cares to involve other humans, is for the art thing to be engaging and accessible.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Response: Intro to Semiotics

Our class readings:
this is not a pipe by tom streeter
semiotics for beginners by daniel chandler

Semiotics is such a buzz word that I have picked up its meaning through context, or in examinations of specific semiotics-based work, such as the work of Martha Rosler. It was interesting to have it spelled out. A cultural anthropology teacher I once had said that what differentiated humans from animals was symbolic thought. In that context, semiotics is the study of what allows for all culture.

Syntagmatic relations, or creating meaning by sequence or order of signs is where it starts to get interesting: the forming of time-based constellations of meaning are the basis of all narratives and prose.

Streeter focuses largely on media and advertising, which is a great place to start deconstructing codes and ideology, but that's kind of obvious, as in, most of us have been exposed to those deconstructions, of gender in the media for example. What I am more interested in is the "shared expectations and interpretive frameworks" those codes engender.

Similarly, I appreciated what Chandler had to say about use of medium and bricolage, or creating as a 'dialogue with the materials and means of execution.' Which is generally my artistic approach to projects, but which he used to address the idea of "the medium is the message."

My overall impression of this is the infinite capacity of knowledge. Of knowledge of knowledge. Meta is possible to the nth. Definitions of significance lead to definitions of signs lead to taxonomies of signs which are analyzed for conventions of organization, which can be separated into "semiospheres" of time and place. Better to stop now and get a beer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Improbable Monument: First thoughts.

The final project for my Conceptual Strategies class is to write a proposal for an improbable monument. We don't have to make anything, we just have to make something up and thoroughly articulate it.
In brainstorming for this project my thinking has been mostly abstract, making inventories of all the ways a monument can be improbable: its material, location, significance, its method/relational approach.
I am especially attracted to the idea of ephemeral monuments, which have a poignancy that bronze cannot contain. I have been thinking about scale. When we say monumental we generally mean something huge, which dwarfs us, perhaps reminding us of our insignificance, but generally so huge that it cannot be ignored. The Eiffel tower is monumental, but lends its incredible height to whoever cares to go up it.
If we have monuments mostly to remember and celebrate things, isn't it important to remember to laugh or dream or eat cookies? A monument to the future would probably be funny to our grandchildren.

Three specific ideas:
Tower of balloons: a monument to our collective hopes and dreams.
Individuals will assemble and each fill a balloon with helium and add it to the base of the tower, which will grow into the heavens with each addition.

The threaded snake which moves through space unbounded. This is the part where I am not limited by material concerns: A monumental pedestrian tunnel would go all around the city, snaking up over things and under ground, side to side and up and down, through the water and the tree tops and right through buildings. It would be elegantly engineered in the geometrical snakeskin style of Olafur Eliasson. This would be a monument to human imagination and creativity, a monument that is many places.

The monumental television. Televisions mostly function as a substitute for direct human contact, but a giant television, done in classic monument style in white marble would make an excellent giant projection screen, perhaps near a park.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Love poem

Last night I was dreaming in blistering technicolor.
Except I was completely awake.
And I was half imagining it, but you were all enmeshed in my dream.
I felt like we were all part of a story that I was,
you know,
making up.
And this dream was monumental, resplendent with towers and minarets.
And lush, creeping tendrils, spilling into the Pacific.
And there were sunrises and sailboats and islands for days.

And I was precariously yet perfectly balanced, between the infinite heavens, and the absolute void.
You all were there with me, trying to strap on my wings.

Oh my goodness.

What a night.

It started in this labyrinthine old brothel. In Oakland. With this crazy bar.
And that place was exploded. With the most fantastical incredible people.
I'd set up this art thing, stashed in some nook.
It was alright. I can do better.
But I liked that you thought it was cool.
It's just this visual thing that shows your motion in color,
like all the tracers you all shoot off all the time.

Would you believe I thought I could break through the ceiling?
I thought I was this cyborg ninja Medusa made of kryptonite
with video eyes for snake hair.
And I knew the whole time I was totally. crazy.

I just couldn't help it.
I was in love.

The kind that's like. starbursts.
Big ones. Supernovas.
And every fleck of dust from that starburst
I could see each one in that vastness of space.

I mean, that shit was hyphy.
Straight blew off my pants.
There's this music, and it does this thing to me, just like
and then again, like
That shit was bananas.

But there were birds, too. I could hear their songs like raindrops. Or maybe butterfly wings.
And I realized what made it all happen was us all loving eachother, all the time.
I was bearing witness to our concurrent creation
as we put eachother together, piece by piece.

Yawn. Duh. We knew that.

But it's almost nicer sometimes to forget.
And then the moment all comes rushing back
like a tsunami of wet, gooey love.
Yes, I love you.
I try my best to love you all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Where the Girls Are: Women Artists Working with Science and Technology

Robin Ward and I went to U.C. Berkeley for one of the talks in the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium. Where the Girls Are: Women Artists Working With Science and Technology by Marcia Tanner, a curator, discussed the work of some women artists, historic and contemporary, who imitate, borrow, parody, or examine the aesthetics, methods, or narratives of life sciences and technology.


"Feminist critiques of scientific culture have expanded the discourse around scientific history, practice and theory since the 1960s, while offering new possibilities for artistic investigation. Discussions include how male-gendered language has dominated descriptions of biological and other scientific processes, and whether there are sexual differences in approaches to the study of living organisms and systems.

The ways in which contemporary female artists employ digital and electronic technology to explore scientific themes and issues is fascinating to me. I'm intrigued by their uses of interactivity and humor, their interpretations of “relational aesthetics,” and their morphing of traditional feminist concerns into often subtle yet powerful critiques of patriarchal structures, gender politics, and established assumptions in technology and science. I'm particularly intrigued by their approaches to the biological sciences."

Tanner asserted that these strategies served to morph feminist strategies by countering the historical narrative of Science as objective and free from cultural bias and by co-opting and re-interpreting male-created technologies.
I felt like her whole abstract asserted a lot of things that were not thoroughly substantiated in her talk, rather that she showed us a lot of artists without much theory or justification.

Regardless it was interesting, as she presented the work of a lot of artists. She started with Martha Maxwell, in particular her taxidermy exhibit for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876:

She showed the macro-video art of Catherine Chalmers; the robotics/hacking art of France Cadet, specifically Hunting Trophies; Sabrina Raaf's robot Grower that draws "grass" in response to CO2 levels in a room. Her Unstoppable Hum project also seems cool.

Deborah Aschheim makes incredible neural network-art. She is an anthropologist and neuroscientist, and makes things like this:

Nina Katchadourian makes whimsical intervention art which she calls "Uninvited Collaborations with Nature" that play on everyday natural things, like mending a spider web or patching mushrooms, or fixing cast rock-climbing holds onto rocks.

She also showed us Rachel Mayeri, Gail Wight, and Liselot Vander Heijden.

Review: Algorithmia at Root Division

I visited Root Division for its recent Algorithmia exhibit before the actual opening. I'd been there before for Sound Device, a fascinating sound-art exhibit that was highly interactive. Expecting similarly smart, contemporary work I visited the gallery on a Friday afternoon.

I enjoyed a piece with goldfish in what appeared to be a maze. Fish Predictions
by Vita Mei Hewitt had real goldfish in some water in a wide shallow tank. Painted on the bottom of their tank were numbers. A paper on the wall instructed the viewer to choose a goldfish with which they identified, and note the number, explained on more paper. Each number was connected with an animal, which was your horoscope and related---according to the artist statement—to one's reincarnation. This was lovely to look at (fish are pretty) and amusingly absurd.

There was a piece with fur on objects, documented with three large photographs Phone, Mailbox and ATM and installed as fur wrapped around a keyboard on a pedestal in the gallery, the work of Emmanuelle Namont Kouznetsov. This stood out formally but did not engage or appeal to me. “Using rabbit fur, Namont's sculptures invoke the visceral to bring back our corporeal presence and question our oblivious subservience towards technology and the power of the machine.” I am not convinced.

I was excited when I saw Plumb System by Ryan Jones, composed of fifty plumb fixtures suspended from the same ceiling fixture. I immediately thought about multiplicity of centers, lack of a single objective reference, and other postmodern hype. I love interactive art, and with a sweep of my hand, sent them to swing, collide, and tangle, which would play into my preconceived meaning that much more. The gallery attendant stopped me and I disentangled them. It wasn't intended to be interactive after all. Unlike Kouznetsov, who over did it, Jones included no theory or conceptual explanation for his work, I wish he'd said something.

I met Lauren Scime, who had an interactive video piece called Video of the Future, a collaborative effort with Bryan Hewitt. A walled area of the gallery contained a wall of projected video. Viewers were supposed to enter and exit through separate doors and the number of people in the room determined which videos were played. The video content was eclectic: jellyfish, people on the street, plants in the wind.

I am always pleased to meet other interactive video artists and see what they are using. She had sonic range finders in each doorway to count the number of people coming in and going out. A good example of simplifying and controlling events to be able to use minimal sensors for an otherwise complex thing to sense-- the number of people in a room. and was using some free mac programming environment to do low-level video file selecting.

Using pre-recorded video content is something I have been considering; as it is I use only video captured in the installation. It was great to see what someone else has done with this. It has lead me to think (along with the ideas of my friends who do interactivity design for video games and whatnot) that having content that would create meaning and that would relate to the audience and their participation would be more engaging.

Monday, April 6, 2009

La Frontera, A Logo

Borders in the world are often the walls of fortresses, the ramparts by which nations concentrate their wealth and power at the exclusion of others. The U.S.-Mexico border has the most legal and illegal crossings of any border in the world, and the longest separation barrier in the world.

Crossing borders is a dehumanizing process, even for me, a privileged white citizen of the U.S., I am at the mercy of the people in the uniforms and the laws they represent. My friend is also a U.S. citizen, but as a Mexican faces an ordeal of proving her citizenship every time she recrosses the border. My gay friend cannot go home to his family in Venezula because if he leaves he will not be able to come back to his husband here. These anecdotes are among the mild symptoms of an institution that cuts up lives.

In 2008 there were 190 migrant bodies found at the Arizona border, down from 237 Arizona-Mexico border deaths in 2007 (Arizona Daily Star).

Migration into the United States for some is the final phase of a migration through Mexico from Guatemala or El Salvador. Crossing the border from El Salvador to Guatemala, I saw posters advising people planning illegal crossings. The advice that has remained most vivid in my mind: never get into a sealed container.

It is always somewhat absurd to me to see the abstract idea of a national border actualized, like this photo of the wall between Tijuana and San Diego:

The Department of Homeland Security has a logo intended to communicate its legitimacy by connecting it to time-honored national seals. By making a logo instead for the border, or la frontera, I hope to remind people of the human experience of our national policies and institutional practices, and hopefully instill compassion for people subject to the forces of migration we unleash through unfettered globalization.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Collage by chance operations

From Virginie Corominas
For a collage, take the first magazine you find, go to the last page,
divide the total number of pages by five
and pick one element from each of those pages.

The first magazine I came across was the March issue of The New Yorker in Mission Pie cafe. I stuffed it up my hoody when I left, in fear of reprimand. If anyone was actually paying attention, it was pretty obvious.

There were 81 pages, so I cut out the 16th, 32nd, 48th, 64th, and 80th pages.
I cut out shapes in the pages and put them on some paper, using white acrylic paint as my glue-I thought it would look good, and it did.

The pages were almost entirely text. I do collages sometimes, I rather enjoy it, but I use images exclusively. I really liked the way that it looked-text as texture, and the metaphor of layering text as image. There was a nice juxtaposition of content; Pakistan-India relations, a story about rich retired people, an article about old-school lesbian separatists, film reviews, and cartoons (of which I used only graphic parts). I think this would cause the viewer to linger, deciphering the snippets of language. Even without being very involved or complex, all the words make it detailed.

I like this process, present in both the cooking and collage pieces, of using chance to determine the primary material of a piece, then following it with an aesthetic process. It can introduce things I would never try otherwise, and seems like good potential for a small series or as a cure for artist's block.

Intervention Artists

Christian Philipp Muller works in different media with themes of site and location.
Most interesting to me of his works are his illegal border crossings, one of which he submitted for the Austrian Biennale. Illegal Border Crossing between Austria and Czechoslovakia simultaneously engages art-world discourses on the site-specificity and global issues of migration and privilege.

In a similar social vein is Jens Haaning broadcasting funny stories in Turkish through a loudspeaker in a Copenhagen square. Turkish Jokes addresses the multiplicity of publics that experience a public work, and themes of immigrant community/alienation.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles' 1973 "Maintance Art" series intervention art which address feminist, class, and labor issues.
"In two performances, Ukeles, literally on her hands and knees... scrubbed the floors inside the exhibition galleries... In doing so, she forced the menial domestic tasks usually associated with women--cleaning, washing, dusting, and tidying--to the level of aesthetic contemplation, and revealed the extent to which the museum's pristine self-presentation, its perfectly immaculate white spaces emblematic of its 'neutrality,' is structurally dependent on the hidden and devalued labor of daily maintenance and upkeep... Ukles posed the museum as a hierarchical system of labor relations and complicated the social and gendered divisions between the notions of the public and private (Miwon Kwon)."

In 1983 she created The Social Mirror, a sanitation truck faced in mirrored glass. As it drove around, it reflected city dwellers' images back at them.

The Yes Men I love, and admire for their works' humor in dealing with serious and troubling issues of globalization, which makes them hugely appealing and garners them media attention in the pseudo-event tradition of Abby Hoffman.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cooking randomly: (after rirkrit tiravanija)

go to your grocery store. photograph the outside.
go to isle 3. halfway down the isle on the right side, pick a food item.
(if isle is not food items, go to the next isle up that is food, 4 then 5...)
do the same on isle 6.
if your grocery store is teeny, (under 6 isles) get something 5 feet down the 1st isle and 2 feet down the second.
go to the produce section. starting at the very left of the produce, pick the 2nd, and 6th items in the middle-height section, and the 8th thing over high up.

photograph each item in its spot in the store, and all together on your kitchen table.

make a meal that includes all of the random ingredients, photograph it and share it with your friends.

Monday, March 2, 2009

As We May Think Response

In July 1945 Vannevar Bush published in The Atlantic the article "As We May Think," which was in many ways prophetic of technological trends, especially in information technology. To explain the kinds of advances he expects in a field which did not yet exist, he imagines other technological advances in photography, stenography, calculators, and data storage and retrieval.
His most famous invention of the future is the Memex, which computers conceptually resemble.

More interesting to me than the inventions he predicted were his observations of what allow for technology to be made and commonly used, which is material in nature, and economically driven. His mechanically imagined future technology has in fact been actualized digitally, which illustrates that manufacturing and materials technology is in fact more revolutionary and instrumental to large socio-technological changes than a single individual invention. The changes brought by the invention of the computer (a digital memex, if you will) pale in comparison to the changes brought by the availability of the personal computer.

My predictions: 1. Today innovations in medical technology are the really cool advances. It follows that the technology of the future will not be based on electromagnetism, but on biological material. DNA contians vast ammouts of information coded in C, G, A, and T rather than 0s and 1s. If we can sufficiently understand protein synthesis, we could store information on the molecular level as well. This could work well in a world where electricity is more of a commodity.

2. Even in Bush was imagining ways to send and recieve brain signals directly:

"By bone conduction we already introduce sounds: into the nerve channels of the deaf in order that they may hear. Is it not possible that we may learn to introduce them without the present cumbersomeness of first transforming electrical vibrations to mechanical ones, which the human mechanism promptly transforms back to the electrical form? With a couple of electrodes on the skull the encephalograph now produces pen-and-ink traces which bear some relation to the electrical phenomena going on in the brain itself. True, the record is unintelligible, except as it points out certain gross misfunctioning of the cerebral mechanism; but who would now place bounds on where such a thing may lead?"

As referred to in my "Jacking into the Brain" post, this technology which allows new ways to interface with the consciousness largely already exists, what is going to be done with it is the question.

Ten years ago, people were using pagers. Now people can browse the internet with their phones. Prediction: In another ten years I expect people to be able to have brain-wave controlled Bluetooth ear peices, so they can think about who they want to call and the call will be placed. Or they can open, compose, and send a text message with their thoughts. Hands free? Check. Drunk dialing? An even bigger problem.

Prediction 3: Stemcells will allow us to grow nerves where we do not have them in order to control and recieve information from prosthetics. Extra arms would be cool, and extra senses would also be neat. But if prediction number 1. is true, we can skip the cyborg stage altogether and remain totally organic.

We wouldn't be genetically engineered, we would be biologically modified. We'll just slap on some gecko traction and some stemcells on our finger tips and be able to scale walls that much better. They'll have to test atheletes and require parental consent for minors.

But I like the traditional, robotic cyborg aesthetic, I hope to see it actualized.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Networked Vision: Reflections/Self Critique

Networked Vision
Originally uploaded by Rubin 110
Saturday night I exhibited a piece at Stimulus, a False Profit party at CellSPACE. The event was fantastic.

The piece was an installation I named very literally "Networked Vision," an interactive installation/sculpture with projected live video.

Description. The sculpture was made of e-waste cables and branches suspended from the ceiling. On top of it was a projector and my laptop, running a Max/Jitter patch I made. In amongst the cables were 4 web-cams and 2 infrared proximity sensors, and I was also using the built in web-cam on my laptop.
If nothing was moving around the sculpture, then the live video from the laptop cam, pointed at the projection wall, would be projected, creating video feedback. The program would switch through the different web-cams, analyzing the video for motion (amount of change from one frame to the next). If there was motion above a certain calibrated threshold, that web-cam's video would be projected until there was not motion in front of it. Then the program would go back to showing the video feedback and "looking" through the cams for motion.
There was also a DJ Stock ticker, imitating the tickers for trading floors, but with DJs instead of stocks, and a music analyzing patch plus a random number generator making their stock rise and fall. I thought this was funny, and possibly my favorite part, but I was annoyed when parts of it didn't work. Like at the end of the night it was supposed to say "ALL TRADING IS CLOSED THANK YOU GOOD NIGHT" but it didn't.
One proximity sensor triggered a message in the stock ticker (which never worked), the other controlled saturation, so the video was only in color when someone was in front of the sensor. This worked well and pleased me. The sculpture would rotate about 20 to 50 degrees when bumped, which I didn't anticipate but I liked the way it worked out.

My goals with this piece (design challenges) were first to make something fast (I had 2 weeks to make it), that I could set up and take down quickly and easily. Check.
I wanted people to be able to see pretty immediately that they were affecting the sculpture and how, but not so immediately that it was boring. This did not go as well as I would like, partially due to logistical constraints (the computer couldn't analyze all the video streams at once, therefore the switching). I think the video feedback added little to the piece and that it would have been better to let people see that the video input was switching, allowing them to more easily "get" it.

Aesthetics/concepts: I have been interested by the way cables look for a while, it was fun to experiment with them. They have such undulating organic forms while being very coldly technological. I like to work with reused materials, and e-waste and obsolescence being the technological issue that it is, in my mind the medium added a lot to the narrative. The branches were there as contrasting texture and form and conceptually relate to the intertwining of technology and the organic.
A lot of why I made this was to experiment with machine vision, but technical art needs to be related to human themes and not "wallow in gaudy baubles." The narrative in my mind was that the sculpture was the body of this networked (it wasn't... next time) cyborg creature, aware (via motion sensing), but not yet to the point of agency, broadcasting the nonsense data of the stock exchange (partially as a demonstration of it as a portal to the internet... but no one trades real stocks on Saturday night). When not stimulated it would lapse into "staring" at itself, creating the infinity of feedback. The e-waste aspect of the materials reminds of the social and ecological costs of this kind of technology.
It is also about interactivity as "relational form." The installation is not complete without people there. I narcissistically loiter around these pieces to watch what they inspire people to do. I am sad when people don't "get it," which is a failed communication on my part. I am delighted when people have fun with these things. Mostly I want people to play and experiment, working with each other to trigger different combinations of input and thereby different results. If this is my standard for success, I'd give this installation a 7/10.

For next time, I won't use the video feedback. The ease of participant understanding is more important than the "staring at itself" story. What's more I think the video looked best when it was in black and white and the motion video tracers (which were layered under the normal video) would show in color.
The video had some delay, which some people liked playing with. As a technical shortcoming, at least it had an aesthetic quality.
Also, having a networked component would be, you know, appropriate. Downloading stocks, uploading video, and being responsive to text messages would all make me pleased, and seem achievable.

Thanks to Andrew for helping like the rockstar he is. Thanks to Alvin for fetching bike rim, tools, pizza. Thanks to Rosco Petracula for consulting services. Thanks to False Profit for showing the work!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Genetic Hybirds, Stemcells, and Elective Surgery

Biotech, especially stem cell experiments, simultaneously excites and disturbs me.
In the hands of scientists, life is technology, as in the National Geographic article "Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controvesy." In the hands of artists, a medium, like the Biological Arts Department at SymbioticA. In the marketplace, I believe there will be a niche for elective body modifications. Would I get breast implants? No. But would I get gill implants? Maybe.

Of course I have a lot qualms about all of this. The main argument in support of biotech is that medical research must be furthered to save lives; the obvious counterpoint is that this is a fantastic Pandora's box. And yet along with the rest of technology it seems so inevtiable, so unstoppable, so incredible, that I would be tempted to participate in its advancement.

What scientists would do (have done, are doing...) with human-animal hybrids is a question of ethics, not so different than the ethical questions of animal testing, but without the convenient divide between humans and animals. But as long as biotech is in the lab, it remains contained and controllable.

What the market would do is what actually worries me. Genetically modified corn designed to resist pests is only a global issue once it is widely planted. Patents and copyrights on molecules and GMOs is already a convoluted problem. Fertility treatments, already well established in our culture, are a huge market.

I don't know what will happen, and until I have gills, I won't be holding my breath.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Artists I found interesting today

There were a few.

George Maciunas
of Fluxus has a lovely "Fluxmanifesto" which calls for a democratization of art and the end of the divide between art and life:

“To establish artist’s nonprofessional, nonparasitic, nonelite status in society, he must demonstrate own dispensibility, he must demonstrate self-sufficiency of the audience, he must demonstrate that anything can substitute art and anyone can do it. Therefore, this substitute art-amusement must be simple, amusing, concerned with insignificances, have no commodity or institutional value. It must be unlimited, obtainable
by all and eventually produced by all.”

Fluxus in general is inspiring to me.

One of their publications, "An Anthology of Chance Operations" is worth looking at, and available as a pdf here.

Their "performance scores," or instructions for people to carry out thereby creating the art, are interactive in an interesting way. In my mind they relate to SF0, flash-mobs and other contemporary popular art/pranks/games.

Minerva Cuevas operates out of Mexico City, with a solidly social-activist intent for her art. Her Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation) will send you cheaper barcode stickers for a grocery chain near you, including San Francisco Safeway.

Locally, False Profit, LLC does what it can to provide "Better living through better corporations." Mostly through providing really, really good music.

Y0UNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES is Seoul-based online art. Dakota was most interesting to me of those I looked at.

It seems very post-modern in its narrative, disconnected style. Animated literature is a very good idea and this was effective in that its simple aesthetic was jarring, time-based, and with its use of music created an experience for the viewer.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
uses physical computing, multimedia, video surveillance and "relational architecture" to make interactive, technology-based art.

I first became aware of his art at the SFMOMA. His "Microphones" piece was my favorite, and relates the most to the work I am experimenting with myself.

Other work I found interesting was his "Relational Architecture" series, including "Pulse Park" which translated participant's pulses into light in Madison Square.

The idea of Relational Architecture is clearly related to Relational Aesthetics, articulated by Nicolas Bourriaud, current curator of contemporary art at the Tate Britain:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Jacking into the Brain"

Body language reveals subtly what we want or feel, even when it contradicts how we are 'acting.' We are able to filter a stream of thoughts and desires and control which we translate into actions, for the most part.

Scientific American published an article about interfacing the brain with prosthetics etc. and possible future ability to interface the brain with computers.
From the site:
  • Futurists and science-fiction writers speculate about a time when brain activity will merge with computers.
  • Technology now exists that uses brain signals to control a cursor or prosthetic arm. How much further development of brain-machine interfaces might progress is still an imponderable.
  • It is at least possible to conceive of inputting text and other high-level information into an area of the brain that helps to form new memories. But the technical hurdles to achieving this task probably require fundamental advances in understanding the way the brain functions.

In the meantime, with our brains hooked up to an interface, how consciously could we control it? It might be most interesting to see what our minds would unconsciously do.

I first became aware of brain-machine interfaces in the 'real' world through my friends at False Profit Labs, who are always doing some crazy, mad-scientist fire-art, in this case, using a prototype for a brain-wave-reading video game interface to control flame effects. They call it Pyrocranium:

So far the controller is not on the market, but it's only a matter of time.

Video games are part pedagogy, teaching, among other things, eye-hand coordination (or eye-feet for DDR). Would a brain-wave video game controller teach focus and concentration?