28 February 2007

Another Flag

In case you've forgotten (or never saw) the other flag that has been featured here, go ahead and click.

Barbara Kruger Untitled 1991
photographic silkscreen/vinyl, 66 x 93 inches

Discuss, if you wish.

I am frankly too busy to deal with this blog right now, so yes, that's all I'm doing today.

23 February 2007

Visualized Data

Visual representations of otherwise texty/numbery data are a big deal in certain fields. Some of these are artsy, and others aren’t. Take my post about Mark Lombardi, whose complicated graphs are held in the collections of major museums and were consulted as evidence in the aftermath of 9/11. And speaking of the aftermath of 9/11, those handy terror-alert-warning-whatevers—well, they’re another visual tool, a translation of (probably massive amounts of) texty/numbery stuff that is not at all artsy (or useful if you ask me).

My scientist-dad, for example, has told me that there are artists/designers out there, employed by the scientific community to create illustrations, teasers, if you will that help normal folk and scientists alike easily and quickly grasp a complicated reaction or biochemical situation.

And my husband uses graphs, charts, and other visual helps to plan projects and track information and processes. Like government terror alerts, these are really far from any kind of artistic/creative impulse. They exist not (just) to look cool, but because people respond well to it. It works.

So visualized data works, and it work quickly. But the translation from data to image doesn’t always go well. When that happens you (of course) end up with an image that hurts more than it helps. Since I’m totally enamored of visual things, I tend to take these visual gaffs as affronts rather than mere errors. Here’s one such data-to-image failure that came into my home on a bottle of oil:

Right. I’m no mathematician, and I don’t make graphs for a living either, but take a look at the yellow indicators. 61% and 28% are shown to be equivalents, as are 7% and 14%. Worse still, 48% is shown bigger than 49%, which makes me think these people weren’t even trying.

Well, they were trying to get the saturated fat indicator right. Canola has the least. Yup. Got that. But Canola also has far and away the MOST of the good, monounsaturated fat. Canola isn't just low on damage, it hands-down wins for being good. But if you relied on your inclination (which is to look at the picture) you'd miss that all together.

So, since I'm on a crusade and all, I corrected it. Here's how it ought to look (with the minor error that 'trace values' are indicated as 1 whole percent):

20 February 2007

The Fabric of an Anchor

Sometimes, I’m amazed by how much I remember from my undergrad days—it's an awful lot. And oddly, I seem to remember a great many off-hand remarks that weren’t part of any lecture or academic program at all. One such memory was jogged when I saw these:

Those are the stamps that my sister put on the valentines she sent us (thanks!). Pretty neat looking, I say. In addition to jogging some art-related memories, my honest reaction to these stamps is, “Does any country have cooler stamps than America?” I’m guessing not.

Back to the memory called up by these stamps – I can still see my American art teacher digressing briefly from the lecture into a description of her occasional presentations to women’s groups at local churches. She was church-going and an expert in American art, a combination that made this kind of request not uncommon. The story of American Art can't be told without the 20th century developments that have left many ‘normal’ people with the sense that art is not for them, not relatable, and not relevant. Women’s church groups are usually full of these normal people. So, to give them an anchor in an otherwise incomprehensible sea of shapes and colors, she brought in quilts. As illustrated by my sister’s (I can safely bet) carefully chosen stamps, there isn’t much difference in the appearance of some American abstraction and many American quilts. My teacher had (rather brilliantly) appealed to something her audience already accepted and understood. Quilters know all about the formal concerns that any artist would face, and rarely are they derailed by the abstract, non-representational (meaning that the colors and forms depict nothing recognizable from the natural world), expressive elements of quilt designs. Bravo to my teacher for finding a way to make art relatable, to make it accessible to women who might only have seen the differences between modern painting and the painting hanging above their sofa back home.

The quilts in the stamps are from the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective. The story of their community is an inspiring tale of survival, perseverance, and hard work. I don’t think I can salute them enough.

16 February 2007

Yet Another Thesis Update

I haven't done a thing on my thesis in nearly a month, and today I've decided to put a stop to that nonsense. Oh, such a saga. I mean, come on. Aside from the obvious, what's my probelm?

15 February 2007

Art Education: Quotes

". . . lately the artist has been misled by the fatal and arrogant fallacy, fostered by the state, that art is a profession which can be mastered by study. Schooling alone can never produce art!"

"Theory is not a recipe for the manufacturing of works of art, but the most essential element of collective construction; it provides the common basis on which many individuals are able to create together a superior unit of work; theory is not the achievment of individuals but of generations."
-- Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, 1923

"The artist must follow his inner leading independent of fads and fashions, therefore art education should take this individual inner direction more seriously than is done at present. Art teaching is not soap manufacture."
-- Hans Hofmann, 1932

". . . the general liberal arts culture is highly desirable in a painter's training. The artist must know more today than he had to know in former years. My own art students, for example, get a general course in natural science - not with any idea of their specializing in biology or physics, but because they need to know what is going on in the modern world. The main thing is to teach students to think, and if they can to feel."
-- Grant Wood, 1935

"Science looks and observes, Art sees and foresees. Every great scientist has experienced a moment when the artist in him saved the scientist. 'We are poets', said Pythagoras, and in the sense that a mathematician is a creator he was right."
-- Naum Gabo, 1937

14 February 2007

Feb. 14

This is the second anniversary of Hariri’s assassination. Our family has been instructed to stay home, which we are mostly doing, and it seems that no one else is. Massive demonstrations are going on down town, and I admit that I am worried about what might happen today and in the coming weeks. I’ve heard honking, yelling, sirens, etc. all morning. There is nothing quite like the threat of civil war/disturbance to nullify my interest in writing about art. It seems that everything is ok at the moment.

The girls and I made these hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Yes Kathleen, that’s the scrapbooking paper you gave me. Thanks again. Star also decided that we needed a cake (since all holidays require cake, didn’t you know that already?), so I made one with peaches and cream. If you know someone I love, kiss them for me.

13 February 2007

Look and Listen

If there’s anything better than visual art, it's the combination of it with music. I’m not talking about sound art. I’m not talking about Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk either (or anyone else’s for that matter). Today, I’m thinking about looking at one art while you listen to another. It is easy enough to craft such an experience. Just open a book of whatever you think is great art while listening to whatever it is that you consider great music. If you chose to do that, you can create the experience you want to have. But sometimes, you find yourself unexpectedly in the middle of such an experience—someone else’s un/intentional creation. As a student, I went to a fair number of concerts in the campus art museum. The most impressive of these was an African drum troop, whose rhythms and resonances created (bizarrely) a counterpoint to the rather stark austerity of the space they played it. As I attempt to describe their music, I come up with things like earthy, traditional, cultural—the opposite of the museum’s deliberately sleek modernity. Another memorable visual/auditory experience took place in a little jewel of a rococo theater in Germany. It was a pleasure to watch Mozart’s Magic Flute performed in a theater that would have been in operation when the opera was written (though by 1791 it would have been out-moded and passé).

I’ve mentioned the blog of the St. Louis Museum of Contemporary Art before—in the same sound art post linked above. It was on their blog that I learned of another visual/auditory experience going on at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. They’ve got a weekly concert series in the museum and you can get free podcasts of the performances. I think today must have been my lucky day.

As for tomorrow, well, lets just wait and see. Keep your fingers crossed for us because in Lebanon, Valentines Day will be a big afterthought.

09 February 2007

World of Music

Here's a picture of some of the musical toys that our kids have. I can't believe that the accordion didn't make it into this photo! I also missed the triangle. And though they aren't toys, we've also got an ok-ish keyboard and a super-duper violin in the house.

I've named and given a bit of information about each item's origin.
1. Guitar (French, real but tiny enough for a toddler to handle)
2. Thumb piano (Nairobi)
3. Double ended shaker (Nairobi)
4. Dried gourd with cowry shell shaker (Nairobi)
5. Percussion frog (Germany, missing the mallet)
6. Oud (Beirut-very cheaply made, child sized)
7. Tablah (Beirut-like the one Bonnie bought last year, but kid sized)
8. Rababa (Beirut-this one has one string, but they can have up to three)
9. Sajat (Beirut-originally a set of four, one missing, they work like castanets)
10. Plastic tambourine, maracas, and ankle bells (what remains from a bigger set that included a recorder, kazoo, other percussion instruments)
11. Wooden rattle (Germany, a baby present for Star)
12. Xylophone-piano Alligator (another cheap toy-instrument gift)

08 February 2007

Always Anterior

Here's another T-shirt idea that I've had floating around in my head for a while. I really like this one, even more than that's so bourgeois. But alas, my brain has long since been finished for the day, so I'll leave the explaining for tommorow.

Big fat bonus points for anyone who can pin down the reference without googling it. I suppose this is a sort of trick question.

Update--9 Feb 2007
In 1977, Roland Barthes (who wrote the much lauded Camera Lucida) wrote about literature: “The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original.” His text ends with the statement “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” Then five years later, Sherrie Levine’s statement was published. It is 11 sentences long, and at least three of them were more or less directly lifted from Barthes. Her text includes the assertion that “We can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original.” It ends with “The birth of the viewer must be at the cost of the painter.” The obvious nod to Barthes is an interesting element of a statement that originality is never going to happen.

I really like the idea of putting this claim on a shirt, which is the least original place for any text to appear. Plus, the words would go on the front of the shirt, literally anterior. Anyway, there is nothing original about logo-Ts or the text that you typically find on them. More often than not it's a brand identity, a play on words, or references an idea that did not start out having anything to do with a T-shirt.

Anyway, I really wonder if anyone would wear this shirt. I think people would worry that it reflects badly on them—as if they are admitting that they aren’t original either. I’d guess very few people are comfortable with the idea that they might not be different after all. Too many bad connotations there, I guess.

07 February 2007

The Artist in Her Studio

Star, shown here, painting her canvas of choice.

In other news, Matthew returned from Nairobi safe and sound 11 hours ago. He brought authetic African musical instruments with him that are too cool for words.

06 February 2007

Faux-Science Art, Faux-Art Science

As a person who knows very little about real science (and what little I know is entirely NOT my fault or doing), I appreciate humorous attempts at faux-science. My dad (ahem—the man solely responsible for the science I’ve managed to comprehend) once showed me a brochure, packed with information about an animal I’d never heard of—the nauga—and its plight to survive extinction given the huge human need for naugahyde. A few years following, my brother gave him a shining example of faux-science. A “Teach Your Chicken to Fly” book, complete with the aerodynamics of it worked out in graphs and charts, and all the metrics you’d need to reproduce the author’s results with your own flock. Brilliant, fake, and funny too.

More recently, J.K. Rowling published two of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts textbooks. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” began with (what for children would certainly be) a very lengthy and involved discussion of the distinctions and classification criteria between beasts and beings. It included descriptions of how the borderline species came to be classified (including centaurs, fairies, goblins, merpeople, etc.), and the text reminded me forcibly of other texts dealing with technical distinctions (fine art vs. folk art, anyone?).

None of these forays into faux-science were made to be art. They were all made to be humor, jokes, hoaxes, etc. But recently I came across a book full of faux-science, fully intended as art. It is Julian Montague’s Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. According to the publisher, “Montague is an artist and graphic designer whose various art projects address issues of scientific classification as they relate to our perceptions of the natural and man-made worlds.”

Ok. Yeah. No, really, I’m ok with that. I’d like to take a look at the book before I put my vote one way or the other. But the thing is, if it makes a better joke than work of art, I’m not sure what I’ll think. Does humor stop art dead?

On the flip side, I’ve seen way too much faux-art science lately. Boing boing linked to this “art-project” the other day.

It’s a tool that enables the user to share their payed-for web connection (at the airport, lets say) with any wireless device close by. The description on the creator’s web site described its art-value as follows:
the Wifi-Liberator critically examines the tensions between providers trying to profit from the increasingly minimal costs associated with setting up a public network and casual users who simply want to see the Internet transform into another "public utility" and become as ubiquitous and free as the air we breath. The project targets pay-per-use wireless networks as often found in airports, other public terminals, hotels, global-chain coffee shops, and other public waiting points.

So using this thing requires that you first buy into the system of pay-per-use. That’s a problem for me, or at least it seems like a dilemma that ought to be addressed. Further issues? Yes. The art, it seems, is not the thing, but the act of using it, which makes this a tool for a happening? For a performance piece centered in civil disobedience and theft? These are big issues that get in the way of the WIfi-Liberator’s claim to critical examination.

Another problematic scientific venture into art is the Bioglyphs project, described on their website as “a collaboration co-created by the Montana State University–Bozeman School of Art, the Center for Biofilm Engineering, and billions of bioluminescent bacteria.” Said bacteria are grown in petri dishes and arranged into aesthetically pleasing compositions.

They are cool looking, to be sure. But I don’t think that makes them art. It isn’t just about aesthetics. Plus, I’ve got issues with referring to the bacteria as a “collaborator”. They no more collaborate than wind collaborates with a mobile. The bacteria are totally indifferent to the scientist/artist's creative vision.

So, that’s my current feeling on artists doing faux-science and scientists doing faux-art. I’m convinced that science/technology can make a pretty picture or a political statement, but that art requires more. And I remain convinced that “hilarious art” is at best dubious and at worst a contradiction.

05 February 2007

Tragic Consequences befall PFVP

Beirut--Recent reports confirm that the P. Family Video Project (PFVP) has been brought to an abrupt halt. Sources close to the family have confirmed that the video camera was rendered non-operational by the youngest P., Dandelion, less than a week ago. Eyewitness accounts place the camera with the child mere seconds before it plunged downward, violently colliding with the composite-stone and marble floors of the family’s dwelling. Yet the family chose to take no immediate action, a choice that certainly did nothing to prevent tragic consequences. “I honestly didn’t think anything of it. We’ve dropped that thing a hundred times and nothing ever happened to it. I didn’t even consider that it might be broken,” the family’s disheartened matriarch confided. “Later, when the girls were finger painting, I thought it would be great to capture that moment—but the camera definitely wasn’t functioning.” It was at that point that she noticed the camera’s cracked casing, damage surely caused by the impact.

The PFVP began early in 2004 with the family’s purchase of a Sony Handy Cam. After creating the project’s first 15 DVDs, the camera began to emit a high-pitched whine, and was promptly replaced with the higher-end Panasonic ?? in October 2005. Five DVDs later, the camera was abducted from the family home on March 6, 2006. It remains at large. Since that time the PFVP has relied on the very JVC Digital Video Camera that met its demise less than a week ago.

Of course, the family has only begun to consider how they will cope with this most recent loss. “It was a good camera. Even though it was inexpensive, I was very pleased by the quality of the video output. I don’t know what we will do without it, and I’m not sure how we will replace it. All of our previous cameras were purchased in the United States. The Lebanese technology market is a joke—so we won’t buy one on location,” a family spokesperson said.

Importing a new camera is not an option and the family is not expecting to visit the US until July 2007. If they wait until then to replace the unit, it will mark an unprecedented delay in the PFVP’s production.

Inside sources have suggested that the viewers might not notice this most recent setback. “We have five DVDs waiting in the wings. We expect those disks to bridge any gap that our audiences may have perceived. By the time the as-yet unreleased disks have been distributed and viewed it is likely that we will have resolved hardware issue we now face.”

Still, the PFVP’s critics and fans alike have expressed concern about the future viability of the project. In a telephone conversation yesterday, one critic questioned the family’s commitment to the project. “At some point, you have to consider what these folks are up against. They live in a war-torn wasteland that can barely keep the power on and the sky from falling, and you wanna tell me that they’re going to find the kind of technology they need? Ok, ok, sure they can find it, but c’mon. These people are cheap. They aren’t going to shell out $200 more than they would pay at Staples.” Although prospects are grim, PFVP fans met in candle-light vigils through out the country to sing and pray. “We are here to give people hope. To tell them not to give up. PFVP is forever. It isn’t just a fad or a dream. Matthew and Mary Ann know that. They know we are counting on them, and we know they will never let us down.”

02 February 2007

Magic Markers

The other day I took the kids to a toy store because we were in dire need of new playdough and finger paint. Actually, we still are in need--neither was found. Well, technically I found playdough: two tubs sold with a super pasta factory. Or I could have bought a playdough sandwich making kit (with four tubs; white for bread, yellow for cheese, green for lettuce, and pink for meat) but it was frankly too gross. And I was not about to add to the amount of plastic-junk toys that we own, so we passed on playdough all together. Finger paint just wasn't there. But these were:

Crayola makes these great window/mirror markers that, according to the package, wash off skin and clothing (and of course the glass too). Magic. Since my kids inadvertently mark all kinds of things other than the intended surface, that promise was a selling point (even at nearly $1/marker). The washable thing is presently an untested feature, so I'll update this post after I've done the laundry. Meanwhile, more and more of our windows will be scribbled on.

01 February 2007

That’s How It Happened

Sometimes, it takes diving into obscurity to identify obvious things in plain sight. That’s what happened to me today. I thought you’d enjoy seeing both the obscurity and the obvious that was so plainly visible that I had never really identified it before now.

I use bloglines, a service that checks almost all the blogs I read for me. One of these is the official blog of the St. Louis Museum of Contemporary Art. They are about to host a concert, and asked a local grad student to write about the composer--Morton Feldman. Here’s what I read:

Beckett's radio play "Words and Music" attracts immediate curiosity with nothing but its dramatis personae: Croak, a master and moderator, and his two charges, Joe (Words) and Bob (Music). Croak and Joe express themselves through the customary words and nonverbal expressions, but Bob's "voice" is literally music, played by a small chamber ensemble consisting of two flutes, vibraphone, piano, violin and cello, its "lines" indicated in the script by vague directions as to mood and dynamics. The role of the score in creating the actual utterances of a dramatic character presents a fascinating and extremely difficult problem to the composer, as attested to by the ultimate failure of the original score (by Beckett's cousin) and Feldman's writings on his own trials and tribulations while working on the play.

So I was thinking about how I always mix up vibraphones and theremins in my mind, and how much cooler the play would be scored for a theremin. And then I was thinking about how enormous the idea is behind Beckett’s play, which caused me to reflect on my own inclination to judge anything “ideaful” as a thing of art. And that jogged my memory of an introductory visual arts class that I took when I was 17. They brought in new art stuff every week that I had never heard of, and most of which I can’t remember well enough to find further information on. One such “cool new thing” was an artist who had attempted to let the ears see and the eyes hear. I wish I had more information, but that is really all I could remember. I took that to google, and one advanced search later found an Artforum (great magazine with free online membership, which I immediately signed up for) review of a huge sound art exhibit in Berlin, which contained this paragraph:

Too rarely did the artists seem to be asking, “Why sound?” “Why sound in this work?” or “Why this sound?” If sound art is to end up being something more than a subcategory of visual art that makes noise, it will need to think through these questions and consider the auditory as a problematic field rather than simply as another sensory modality to stimulate. Perhaps within the next decade, those artists who engage sound will more fully make this conceptual turn, and “Sonambiente 2016” will showcase a vigorous and fresh (and not merely sustained) sound-art practice.

And that was where I had “oh, look what was right here in plain sight” realization. The idea of art as problematic: of course. Is art anything more often than problematic? What I find really interesting about art – truly engaging about art – are the problems inherent to representation. A great many of my Impart Art entries center on art’s problems, and a great many of western art’s recent masterpieces are masterpieces because they illustrate lingering visual problems (either by pointing them out or attempting to resolve them). Images and words and sounds and ideas and all of this can be engaged in a discussion of the problems of representation. At least, that’s what images and words and sounds and ideas do if they are going to convince me that they are art.