Another Round

I'll be honest, I don't know why yet, but I like to document the injuries that I have been accumulating as a result of my epilepsy, such as this one and a previous one.  For the past year and half/two years, I have also been collecting the bottles of anti-convulsants that I have to take every day.  To what end, I'm not sure.  I'm sure that at some point, it will allow me some perspective, but in the immediate, I think that it allows me to work through a lot of things.  I will be sure to post something if I figure any of this out.

Who's History

I ran across this article, and one quote caught my attention.

By turning the personal into the public, an entirely new aesthetic is coming into being -- and a huge proportion of the invisible social interaction of a generation is being recorded forever. As Charles Stross notes, we are living at the end of "pre-history" -- the last days of a patchwork human history. Tomorrow's lives will be remembered by the historians of the day-after-tomorrow with astounding clarity and thoroughness, reconstructed through the midden of personal blips, twits, and chirps emitted by our social tools. By comparison, our own lives will be as opaque and unimaginable as the lives of the poor schmucks who inhabited the same cave for 200,000 years, generation after generation leaving no mark more permanent than a mouldering knucklebone lost in the soil.

I take issue with this because it is not a generation at-large who is being recorded, but those privileged enough to be on the prosperous side of the digital divide.  I don't take issue with the fact that the internet will be a recorded history, but who is being recorded and what is being taken as history.  History is powerful weapon, and is not something to be taken lightly.

True, those who partake in online communities are forever having their social interactions recorded, but taking that as history does so at the expense of those who do not have the means to access the technology.  We must remember that at this point, technologies such as the internet, while increasingly important, is still a privilege--of class, education, access--and to not use that privilege as a means of exclusion of others. 

We are just recently moving away from the model of a Western-centric, patriarchal driven version of history, and it would be a big step back to fall back into this model again.  Columbus did not discover America, and the internet is not an accurate, as of yet, historian of human history.

Nordstrom Does Félix González-Torres

I was at the downtown San Francisco Nordstrom today (believe it or not, I am actually not there on a regular basis) and ran across an interesting holiday addition.  I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but the strings of lights cascading down the center of the store bear a remarkable to the work of Félix González-Torres, specifically his 1994 piece, Untitled (America) that was featured at the U.S. pavilion in this year's Venice Biennale. Below are photos of the two.  Judge for yourself.

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Félix González-Torres "Untitled (America)" (1994) in the U.S. pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2007

Photo Credit: Ian Bartholomew

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The Nordstrom lights

Photo Credit: Ian Bartholomew

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A few years back, I lost my record/CD collection (it's a long and heartbreaking story that I am not going to get into) and since then, I have taken that as an opportunity to rebuild my collection, digitally, from the ground up.  In that time, I have amassed a collection of 10,000 songs, which translates to about 1,100 albums.  Not bad.  Of course, the upkeep on a collection like that is fairly daunting, if you want to keep artist names, album names, song titles, and play order correct. (I do.  One of the quirks of being an artist myself is that I respect how other artists title and order their work) One of the things that I have really latched onto though is the cover art, and more specifically the iTunes feature, CoverFlow.  It allows for  a digital copy of the artist's work to be identified with the unique artwork that they create for the music.  Since the 1960's, cover art has been inseparable from the music that it represents, becoming a part of the musical experience.  Except now as we move to a time when music files exist on their own, sans artwork.  Of course, CoverFlow is a great step forward by allowing us to have a visual connection to the aural experience, but it by no means replaces the experience of physical packaging.  (Think of Led Zepplin's Physical Graffiti, the vinyl version)  That, however, will be sorely missed.  But we were already on a downhill slide, as far as packaging is concerned, from records (which had the most real estate), to CDs, and throw cassettes in there where ever you like.  (Although, if you remember, the first CDs to come out had large packaging, and a lot of real estate for artwork, but those got a lot of static from environmentalists who were concerned about waste, and were phased out of production in favor of the packaging we have now.  And you had to throw the exterior packaging away anyway.)

Design Observer had an article relating to this awhile back that is worth a read too, although it is a bit pessimistic.  Personally, I am happy with CoverFlow (although there a few quirks with the program) in theory, as I am able to have that connection between the music and the visuals.  My hope is that we will be able to also have liner notes, production notes, etc. along side the cover art at some point, completing the experience.

Buildings

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I have finally had time to get some shooting in after a couple of weeks of pretty intense work.  The frustrating thing about practicing art is that for the majority of people, it is usually something that you do in addition to other things.  So even though I am in art school, sometimes finding the time to actually do art with all the other things that school and work require can be hard.  But such is life.

One more heads back East

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We had a going away party for my buddy TC who is moving back to NY today, and I have to say that after being here for a little over two years, I am a bit jealous of him.  If I didn't have such a nice thing going for me at such great school, I would probably be doing the same.  Which isn't to say that SF isn't a great or beautiful city, because it is.  But lately I have been missing the East Coast, and want to go back.

At any rate, TC is a good friend, and I know that I will see him again.  And the circle of friends becomes even more spread out.

Anyways, on a technical note I also played with the page formatting so now I can (hopefully) post larger images without running into formatting issues.

Playing around

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I have been playing around with both the the new Lightroom and CS3 and I have to say that I am quite enamored with both of them.  Grated there are a couple of quirks with CS3, it is still the beta I am working with.  I wish that there were some more play in between the two however (a la Photoshop and Imageready), because there are some features that I need to use that are only in Photoshop, so I end up jumping in between the two a lot.  But Lightroom does a great job at providing the tools and a workflow for digital photography.  I'm loving these new programs.

Now to find time to go shoot more...

Walter Benjamin

I have been thinking of Walter Benjamin a lot of late, owning to the the fact that I have been dividing my time between painting and drawing, and purely digital work.  Working with this binary set of media I have been thinking about Benjamin's "aura of the original" in terms of the work that I have been producing, and how, despite my initial rejection of his ideas, I have come around to agree, at least in part, with what he was saying.

In my own egalitarian belief system, art and knowledge should be open to everyone, and reproducibility allows for that.  Through the means of books and the internet, information is passed from the few to the many.  Although, in terms of art, the passing of pure information can be enlightening, we loose the "aura of the original."

For Benjamin however, the loss of the aura does not necessarily have negative connotations, as it is tied to art's fetishistic impulses, and to primitive, feudal or bourgeois power structures; reproduction brings art to the view and control of the masses, leading to the shattering of it's aura.

While I can agree that the creation of an original creates in it a value that leaves it susceptible to fetish and ritual, there is something to be said for an original where the hand of its creator is visible.  As not only its aura, but its connection to the artist are in intact, in a way that is not possible with digital work, original pieces create a connection with the viewer, an immediacy, that is not possible with reproduction.

In the end, I can see a duality setting in, where artists work in two modes: the first, where artist work in traditional, tightly controlled originals.  In  the second, artists give up that control over their work for reproducible work that is easily disseminated among the masses.

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

Jean Baudrillard died yesterday.  He was a great thinker and a great intellectual inspiration of mine.  There is a quote of his that has stayed with me, and changed my thinking about the creative process:

"There are thousands of ways to express the same idea, but if you do not find the ideal compression between a form and an idea, then you have nothing."

The Shape of Jazz To Come

When I was younger, I was into jazz, being a musician with the trumpet as my main instrument.  Later on in high school, it fit into my (somewhat misguided) bohemian asperations, and I stayed with it.  But somewhere along the line, I lost track of it, not in any sort of conscious way, but as music is a reflection of one's life and the music that you listen to reflects your mood or life at that moment, my life went in such a way that I stopped listening to to because it just didn't fit into it at that time. But a recently, I heard something, and decided to pick up some of my old albums, and I have not been able to put them down, specifically John Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.  These albums are ingrained into my memory (or what's left of it) but the years that it has been since I have listened to them have given me a new perspective on them.

The big thing for me is the connection between what the early jazz artists were doing and the larger creative process.  That is, the severing of the past for the creation of the new.  Although later misinterpreted, the Futurists had a similar beliefs; in Marionetti's manifesto, he called for the destruction of museums and libraries in order for art to move forward.  A similar sort of attitude can be seen both in the title of The Shape of Jazz to Come and in the music, where it was a harbinger of a new style, breaking a lot of old rules of song structure, but doing so in order to move forward.

HD TV/DVD Etc.

I was watching a video on CNet the on porn industry and the move to HD DVD the other day, and something in the video struck me as true, not just for porn, but for films at large.  In the video, they mentioned that with filming in HD, it's much harder to hide blemishes  with makeup and other traditional movie magic, because everything is up there on display in HD.  Where porn and other movies overlap is that they are both dependent on fantasy and the suspension of belief, and I wonder if the higher level of realism that HD, be it HD-DVD or Blu-ray, threatens that suspension of belief. In 1970, a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori put forth a hypothesis called the Uncanny Valley.  In the hypothesis, he states that with robots, as the characteristics become more human-like, the more sympathy and empathy is aroused in the human observers.  However, as the appearance and movement of the robot become less human-like, the response quickly becomes that of disgust, until a point at which the appearance is sufficiently  non-human, and empathy levels return to that of a normal human to human interaction.  Part of the reason for this response is that if there are more human characteristics, those differences that are non-human will be highlighted, and seen as repulsive (he gives the example of a zombie).  But for those robots with more non-human features, the human characteristics will be what is highlighted, and garner empathy.

I bring this up because with this advancement of formats and media, I wonder if we have, or will come, to this Uncanny Valley in our home media formats.  Already there have been many issues with CG characters in movies and television, such as the Final Fantasy movie, the Polar Express, or the new Orville Rendenbacher commerical, and numerous ones to come.  I think that in this race for the bigger, better, higher definition media, we will run into this uncanny response, not necessarily with a CG character or robot, but with our own human reflection.  At that point, we will have to take a step to one side of the valley or the other, be it either forward or backward.

Magritte and Fair Use

Boing Boing posted an article today about the "Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images" exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (which I went to last weekend) about, in Cory

If the point of the exhibit is to show us the wonders of fair use, how can LACMA justify taking paintings in on terms that betray fair use?

Now, I have been to the exhibit in question, as well as many other exhibits that banned photography, and I have never seen it as conflicting with fair use.  Although it is not the case with the Magritte exhibit, a lot of museums when showing older work, do not allow photographs, or at least flash photography, not only because it annoys the other patrons, but because the light from the flashes can artificially age and degrade the work. (Some museums won't even let you take in pens; they will only let you take in pencils for fear of you making permanent marks to the work.) But more to the point of the article, big shows of famous artists are great opportunities for bootleggers to come and make nice copies of the work, and it becomes the collector's prerogative whether they want to allow photography or not.  It has less to do with fair use, and more with protecting the integrity of the work.  Artists make their living off of their work.  If people come in and take pictures of the work, and make copies of the work, thats money out of their pocket.  (And this does happen.  A lot.  Just check out You Thought We Wouldn't Notice)  So if they don't want photography, then that is a decision that we should respect.  Personally, I don't like the idea of people saying that work is either totally copyrighted or totally fair use; I think that it should be up to the individual artist to decide for themselves what they want for their work.  Thats why I like, and use, Creative Commons licenses: because they allow you to choose how much access to your work you want to allow, instead of the all-or-nothing approach. And moreover, a showing is not the place to be making a copy that you want to work with.  If you want to use another artist's image in your own work, and you need to work with the original, contact the artist, or in lieu of that the gallery or collector that has their work.  Requests like that are not uncommon at the gallery that I am at, and a lot of the time the artists, if approached by someone serious, are happy to work with them.  There are just safeguards that they have to put up in order to protect themselves and their livelihood.

In the end, I really don't see how the inclusion or exclusion of photography in an exhibit is a good bellwether of a work's fair use rights.  There are so many other avenues that one can pursue in order to procure a particular image that it all seems like a rather moot point.  I can see where someone from the outside, who's only exposure to art is in the museum setting, would be confused, (as condescending as that sounds) but the fine arts were able to thrive and have a free flow of ideas for hundreds of years without the aid of photography in exhibits, and I am confident that it can continue to do so.  Because for artists, it is not the photographic documentation, but the idea that is paramount.  And as long as those are not locked away, we can continue to dialog with each other, just as the Magritte exhibit presents.

Safari, Firefox and Color Profiles

So a while ago, I posted a crash course of sorts about digital cameras, and I mentioned Flickr, and their stripping of uploaded color profiles.  As an update to that, I discovered today that in addition to the stripping, Firefox also has no current support for color profiles.  That means that  even if an image is uploaded with an ICC profile, it is ignored.  IE and Safari have have support for ICC profiles, with Safari going a step farther and if it comes across an image without an ICC profile, it applies your monitor's output ICC profile to it.  All of which is really frustrating for me, because Firefox is, in every other respect, the better browser, and my preferred browser.  But since I spend a good amount of online time looking at art and photography images, color correction is an important thing for me, and I don't want to have to switch browsers depending on what I am looking at.  But the more important thing is that as someone who spends a good deal of time working on his  images for presentation, it's frustrating that there's not cross browser support for the standard ICC profiles, so that the colors that I see and want others to see, are the ones that are delivered, correctly.

Jonathan Ive

In reading an article about the new iPhone in Time, I ran across the name of Apple's head of design, Jonathan Ive.  But this paragraph really struck me:

The iPhone is a typical piece of Ive design: an austere, abstract, platonic-looking form that somehow also manages to feel warm and organic and ergonomic. Unlike my phone. He picks it up and points out four little nubbins on the back. “Your phone's got feet on,” he says, not unkindly. “Why would anybody put feet on a phone?” Ive has the answer, of course: “It raises the speaker on the back off the table. But the right solution is to put the speaker in the right place in the first place. That's why our speaker isn’t on the bottom, so you can have it on the table, and you don't need feet.” Sure enough, no feet toe the iPhone's smooth lines.

and later in the article:

When our tools don't work, we tend to blame ourselves, for being too stupid or not reading the manual or having too-fat fingers. “I think there's almost a belligerence—people are frustrated with their manufactured environment,” says Ive. “We tend to assume the problem is with us, and not with the products we're trying to use.”

That thought process struck me, and I began looking him up.  Ive is responsible for the design of, among other things, the iMac, (the original, also a design of his, was a key product for Apple) the Powerbook G4, the Powermac G4, and of course, the iPod.  That's an impressive portfolio.

Product design is nothing new, and in fact, Ive's and Apple's more recent designs weigh heavily on the influence of Dieter Rams, chief designer at Braun in the 1960's.  But the level at which they are taking it in technology is unheard of, and impressive to say the least.  The consideration of X factors such as the design of the product, as well as the function, as having an effect on the user experience is something that no other technology company does, or at least as well.  And perhaps that emphasis, above all else, is why I see more Macs in the hands of creative people than I do PCs.

What Apple's #1 product is, is good design, and that is something that is hard to quantify into technical specs.  It is also something that is hard to see sometimes, because as Rams states in his ten principals of good design:

Good design is innovative. Good design makes a product useful. Good design is aesthetic. Good design helps us to understand a product. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is honest. Good design is durable. Good design is consequent to the last detail. Good design is concerned with the environment. Good design is as little design as possible. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

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One of the interesting outcomes of my recent portfolio organization that I have undertaken recently is that it has given me a perspective on my work that I don't think that I have had before.  Looking back over ten plus years of work, I am able to see common threads and themes throughout my work that I didn't or couldn't see at the time.  I am really discovering the old maxim of "You don't know where you are going unless you know where you have been" to be very true these days, because the individual points in your life only begin to make sense and take shape given time, when the connection between them is made and a trajectory becomes apparent.

Recycling through the old

I finally got around to getting my old negatives from my dad's house with this last trip, and one of the other projects that I have given myself is going through and scanning them in.  With the printers that we have at school, I can get some damn good output with scanning these in.  Even with the printer that I have at home gives me passable quality, enough to make me have no need to ever go in a wet darkroom again.

The odd thing is working with these negatives now, I remember just battling with some of them the first time around, (some of these I haven't touched in ten years or so) with small scratches here and there, dodging this corner or that one, getting the right amount of contrast, and the juggling act it was getting all of that right on each print.  I would spend days working on a print.  And now, going through these, I'm spending 15 minutes, scanning them in and doing all of that.  Even more so, I have control over so much more than I ever did before that I have been able to get an almost totally different print than before.    But even though it was hard, and a pain in the ass, I wouldn't trade those years in the darkroom for anything.

Seattle

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As I get older, and the pissed off, angry teenager inside of me quiets down, I am able to look at home and Seattle in a different way.  A big part of why I moved away was that I resented it, and wanted to get away from it.  But now that I am a bit older, I am able to look at it and my family and see how it informs me about who I am and what I come from.  And even though I don't go back that often, being back acts as a sort of mirror to allow me to see where and who I am now, by showing me where I came from and who I was.

Anyways, I am still working on the site, teaching myself PHP to try and get this to do what I want it to, such as to integrate a formal portfolio into it. (which is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be)