At Hunter College’s Film & Media Studies program, I teach an introductory production course in visual communication in which I cover graphic design basics, image and text composition, typography basics as well as an introduction to data visualization… The course is a medley of current topics related to visual communication. One of the lectures focuses on layout and the use of the golden ratio in art, design and architecture. As Euclid described the golden ratio: “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the less.” We look at examples dissected by Kimberly Elam in her book Geometry of Design. We apply shapes such as the pentagon, star pentagram, the Fibonacci spiral to historical graphics such as the work of the Stenberg Brothers…
Since I cover this sort of material in teaching, I was struck by the work of Claudia Wieser upon entering her October 2013 exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea, NY. Generally, I prefer work that is socially and/or politically engaging, but these galleries presented such a beautiful twist on design elements that I found myself in a visual funhouse. Work is presented throughout the gallery on the walls and floor, not as individual pieces, but rather constellations that speak to one another. The individual elements to the exhibition are simple – geometric shapes cut into mirrors, tiles or wood, graphic elements layered on to classical Western art. She seems to effectively extract the geometric design formulas applied to traditional Western sculpture and painting and then reapply them as sculptural elements to create new visualizations.
Artist and IMA MFA candidate Grayson Earle has just launched the NSA Haiku Generator. Set against a GIF-style rainbow sky background is a haiku composed of NSA watch words. The use of any of these 845 words or character combinations over internet communications can land one on the NSA’s terrorist watch list. Grayson Earle edited the list down to some 300 terms to construct haikus that poke fun at what seems like a ridiculously sweeping effort to construct a flawed terrorist watch list. As the artist states:
This web app uses the NSA’s database of terms which can land you as a suspected terrorist if you use them in electronic communication. Rather than being all ‘doom and gloom,’ I decided to make a game out of it. I’ve assigned each phrase a syllable count which enables you to create random haikus out of hundreds of words.
Click the haiku text to generate new haikus and then share them over various social media, to make the NSA list even more pointless.
The information page to the site also presents links to organizations that are taken a serious stance against the NSA monitoring of our electronic communications:
Fight For The Future
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Stop Watching.Us and the October 26th Rally in DC
Phil Collins puts together a good show! There’s not much to not enjoy in Phil Collins current exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Walking into a gallery with two home trailers is always going to be visually engaging. And when you step into the trailers, there are salty potato chips and refreshments waiting for you, so that you may have a seat and enjoy programming from a television channel created by the artists – TUTBU.TV (I wish it actually existed online). Although I did not have the patience to watch the programming for very long, what I did see were entertaining vignettes that appeared to mock the usual television programming available and included a soft porn featuring what appeared to be 18th Century European aristocracy.
Upstairs are two more projects, a series of private listening rooms that present a record player and shelves with 7″ records. I only listened to one, but the song is beautiful and the quality of sound inside the listening room is quite amazing. Below is a description of these audio listening rooms:
Within the upstairs main gallery, six specially designed listening booths house Collins’ most recent work, my heart’s in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand’s in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught, a project conceived in collaboration with guests of a survival station for the homeless in Cologne. There, Collins installed a phone booth with a free line that anyone could use for unlimited local and international calls on the agreement that the conversations would be recorded and then anonymized. The selected material was posted to a group of musicians, including David Sylvian, Scritti Politti, Lætitia Sadier, Maria Minerva and Damon & Naomi, among others, who used these recordings as source material to produce original songs presented here inside the booths as 7” vinyl records.
And perhaps my favorite piece is the video “Subculture: The Meaning of Style” although it fell short of initial expectation formed upon walking in due to the lack of narrative. When I first walked in, projected onto the wall were two young Asian men with shaved heads dressing against a backdrop of Buddhist wall paper. The clothes that the men are wearing are easily identified as skin-head clothing, but their faces look like young buddhist monks. I loved the juxtaposition and it appeared as if they were preparing to go somewhere and a narrative would ensue that would complicate the superimposition of popular British construct onto a non-Western community. Unfortunately, what followed was brief and no more than a series of gatherings of these skin-head Malaysians hanging out, entirely visual. Although one is left wondering who they are, why they choose this fashion style, do they understand its roots, how was it popularized in Malaysia… It’s great to have a piece generate these questions, but the work left me wanting more and feeling like it’s a bit empty and too easy… Perhaps that’s point.
Today, I attended Suzanne Lacy’s discussion regarding “Between the Door and the Street” which was interesting and would require its own post. Following the discussion, I went for a quick stroll through the museum and discovered Valerie Hegarty’s “Alternative Histories” – three installations in the period rooms. The Brooklyn Museum’s period rooms have always struck me as precious, spaces that remain intact for the visiting tourist to enjoy, so it was a real surprise to see that the museum would allow a contemporary artist to intervene upon these rooms. It’s particularly surprising as the installations are critical of the history portrayed in the period rooms. Valerie Hegarty tears away at the pristine nature of these rooms that reflect early U.S. Puritanism and a humble nobility, by presenting rooms that are in decay, crows or woodpeckers have entered the rooms and tear away at the objects. The rooms effectively bring to question the heroism of early U.S. history and remind us of the horror that early settlers brought to Native Americans and the natural landscape.
I recently re-visited this very important mockumentary from 1978 and need to make a note of it. “Agarrando Pueblo (aka The Vampires of Poverty)” was shot in Cali, Colombia, 1978 and is a satiric mockumentary critiquing the popularity of documentaries capturing Latin American poverty in the 1970s. Mayolo and Ospina coined the term “pornomiseria” or “pornography of misery” in reference to the objectification of poverty in Latin America for Eurocentric audiences.
The director and cameraman move quickly around the city requesting a taxi driver to take them to spots where they can capture poor children, crazy people and whores. The directors have a recipe of necessary vignettes to compose the documentary. When pedestrians confront the film makers they dismissively tell them that it’s to inform the world or that they don’t understand what this film is about. At one point the director is filmed some cocaine in his hotel bathroom between shots.
In August, Brooke and I had lunch at the Turntable Cafe located in old railroad yards of Helsinki. We were primarily doing research regarding urban composting and gardening. These railroad yards had been abandoned and in 2012, one of the railway turntables was transformed into a greenhouse and rebranded as Turntable, an experiment in urban gardening. During the summer months, every Friday lunch is available at Turntable and the food that is served is made from what is grown at the garden. Turntable is a great example of industrial wasteland being transformed into a productive area by a small group of people. The food was delicious and inexpensive.
The greenhouse built around the turntable i-beams can easily be deconstructed. I found more information regarding Turntable on the portfolio site of Paiva Raivio, one of the artists who collaborated on the transformation of the railway turntable in to the garden and cafe, she states
Turntable is an urban garden, cafe, greenhouse and an open, public space situated in Pasila´s historical railway yard. It was set up by Dodo´s activists: Jaakko Lehtonen, Kirmo Kivelä, Joseph Mulcahy and myself.
The spot is where Dodo´s (an environmental NGO based in Helsinki) urban farming movement begun when gardeners took over a wasteland in 2009. In 2012 we transformed Turntable into an urban farming test lab and source for learning and inspiration. During it´s first year in action Turntable has offered various workshops, events and locally grown food in the Turntable-cafe. The garden also has a beehive, dry toilet, composts, cob oven and solar panels to produce energy.
Go to Paivi Raivio’s page on Kääntöpöytä / Turntable Urban Garden to read more and see photos.
Last week, our friend and artist Minna Langstrom introduced Brooke and I to Ulla Taipale who is coordinating BiofiliA – a bio-art lab at Aalto University in Helsinki. Ulla was so generous as to give us a tour of the lab which consists of an electronics area, a wet lab and biology lab. It was amazing to see a university dedicating the funding and facilities to a relatively avant-garde practice of combining biology and art. Pictured above is Ulla to the right and the lab manager a recent bio graduate of the university.
As the BiofiliA site states, the project is “a biological art unit was launched under the Aalto ARTS in 2012. It offers a platform and infrastructure for trans-disciplinary research and education that aim at creating cultural discussion and innovation around the topics related to the manipulation of life and biological processes at a practical and theoretical level, including philosophical and ethical dimensions…”
Artists that have worked collaboratively with scientists at BiofeliA include Oron Catts of SymbioticA, Christina Stadblauer, Kiran Gangadharan, Agnes Meyer-Brandis and they hope to bring Paul Vanouse for 2014. Art and biology students may take courses at BiofiliA and work along side of resident artists.
One of the ongoing projects exists outside the labs – Hexa-Hive Village an experiment with urban bee keeping. The hives were designed by Christina Stadlbauer and Kiran Gangadharan. And beyond producing honey, Till Bovermann of Media Lab Helsinki has installed contact microphones in one of the hives for “project hive listening.”
For the last couple days, I’ve been living above FiNNCON2013 at the Cable Factory in Helsinki. I searched through their program and discovered a few interesting things, amongst them the movie I watched last night on YouTube – “Juan de los muertos” (Juan of the Dead). There are now several zombie movies that I like and all of them for their socio-political commentary or perhaps more accurately – overtly political satire and comedy:
“Zombie Strippers,” “Shuan of the Dead,” “Stake Land,” and now “Juan of the Dead.” (“Stake Land” may be more so vampire than zombie, I don’t recall clearly, the title imagines vampire, but I think that they were zombie vampires, either way, it’s a surprisingly good horror movie but not so funny.)
“Juan de los muertos” is of course low budget and campy, but it’s Cuban which means clever, over the top and funny. It at once satirizes Cuba, Fidel, the Revolution, Marxism, Socialism, Capitalism, the United States of America, Hollywood and Horror. However the characters are endearing and there are surprising scenes. Best of all, it’s freely available on YouTube:
Artist, performer, activist, professor Larry Bogad recently posted his TEDxUCDavis talk on YouTube. It’s well worth checking out and may inspire some fun and thoughtful hijinks!