Monday, October 12, 2009

Margaret Wertheim Blows My Mind.

Wow. I just checked out a youtube video (thanks, Cora!) of a TED talk by artist/science writer Margaret Wertheim that absolutely blew my mind (I know it's 16 minutes long, but you will not regret listening to her):

What she's working on is such a beautiful illustration of the power of interdisciplinary thinking: her work involves elements of math, marine biology, feminine handicraft, environmental activism, and community-based art.

And, returning to the idea of tactility: I just want to touch this work! Her giant crocheted coral reef structures are beautiful. It seems like the scale (in relation to your body) is an important aspect of this work-- it's almost frustrating for me to engage with this work through images on a screen.

Near the end of her talk, she touches on an angle of play that I hadn't yet considered: (Beth, if you haven't seen this yet, I hope you will--I think you'll find this part really compelling) she explains that through "plastic forms of play, people can be engaged with abstract, high-powered theoretical ideas."

My Aunt and I talk about Face-to-face interaction, Technology, and what (else) is keeping kids from (physically) Playing.

I've been discussing some of the issues brought up here with my aunt via e-mail, and I think our conversation might add a new layer to my own observations. Here's an exerpt of what we've been talking about (I think it's interesting to note that, despite our generational difference, she is the one that's well-versed in technology, and I'm the one-- supposedly of this digital generation-- that has never really latched onto it. This difference in sensibilities/inclinations is what made me so curious about her take on the cultural effects of technology.)

(My aunt's response to some of these ideas:)

"I think that computers are alienating people even though there's this huge "community" on line. If you can see people online, why bother to try to spend time face to face? That's what I think is a serious problem. We don't interact in a way that we used to. I remember going to our neighbor's house just to talk and drink coffee, and we just don't do much of that anymore. I also know that as kids we used to play outside ALL the time, and now I never see kids out playing. That is how we learned to get along with each other. Sports have become big business and not a way for kids to express themselves. Most kids just watch professoinal sports rather than going outside to play ball, etc. ...I totally understand the need for tactile experiences. I can't read a book or anything else online. I usually have to print things in order to read them. I do spend a lot of time online but am trying to limit that. I've been doing a lot of crafts lately, mainly knitting, crocheting and sewing. "

(My response:)

"Those are some interesting observations, about the way children are (and are not) playing today (as a result of technology and a bunch of other things.) I think the bunch of other things are notable as well. There's so much (sometimes ligitimate) fear associated with kids being able to play outside-- unsafe neighborhoods, crazy drivers, crazy kidnappers. People are really judgmental, too (like you're a bad parent if you let your kids out of your sight; irresponsible if you let them walk alone to the bus stop.) There was an article in the N.Y. Times a week or so ago about whether or not it's okay to let your kids walk to the bus stop:

I read it and realized that if kids are able to turn off their xbox 360s and tvs and computers and get outside to play, that's really only the first hurdle. I remember being outside until it was dark almost every night, and just coming in for dinner when mom would whistle for us. That just doesn't even seem like an option anymore, and it's really sad to see rising childhood obesity rates and kids being less independent and relying on technology (instead of hands-on games) to relate to their peers. That situation, of using games and interactive media, is so limiting in terms of the development of kids' creativity (and attention spans...). We could have so much fun with just a cardboard box and a friend! "

Monday, October 5, 2009

I read about an organization called CHArt (Computers and the History of Art) that is having its 25th annual conference on the subject "Object and Identity in a Digital Age" the 12 and 13 November, Birkbeck, University of London.

So, I guess I'm not the only one thinking about these issues...

"This year's CHArt conference engages with the idea of object and identity in relation to art practice, production, consumption, representation and display. The conference will explore new notions of the identity of the artist, including those involving collaboration and anonymity; new conceptions and ontologies of the art object, as processual, virtual, or hybrid; new means of consumption and reception, whether in galleries and museums, in public spaces, or over networks of broadcast and narrowcast; and the challenges these transformations bring to the display of art and to its curation and access." (copied and pasted from the organization's website ).

Some subjects and speakers that seem interesting and relevant:
Curation as High-Level Programming, Gabriel Menotti, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Making Connections: Children, Objects, Meanings and Museums, Helena Tomlin and Irit Narkiss, The Manchester Museum.
Re-Materialisation of the Art Object, Dew Harrison, University of Wolverhampton.
Puppeteers, Performers or Avatars: A Perceptual Difference in Telematic Space, Paul Sermon, University of Salford.
The Work of Art in the Age of Virtual Production, Andrew Sempere, IBM Watson Research.
The Creative Use of Online Social Networking Sites to Increase Public Engagement and Participation in the Professional Arts Through Collaborative Involvement in Creative Practice, Sophy Smith, De Montfort University, Leicester.

Okay, I'm gonna stop there before I get carried away and end up in London next month.... but these are all really interesting angles from which to view the issues I've already begun to delve into with this lil' blog....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

FOUND Magazine

I have been an adoring fan of Found Magazine for several years now. And, while it's not really "an artist", I think that it's an art project: "We collect found stuff: love letters, birthday cards, kids' homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, doodles-- anything that gives a glimpse into someone else's life. Anything goes."(from the "About us" section of their website From there, the found stuff is arranged into a magazine (in a cut-and-paste scrap-booky sort of way) and distributed.

I've pulled a couple of "finds" from the website to give you an idea of its awesomeness:

Kung-Fu Possum!
FOUND by Hannah L. in Springfield, Ohio
I found this in an academic building at my college during a training session. It was crumpled up in a ball on the floor

Splenda User
FOUND by Elizabeth in North Gate, Berkeley, California
I found this in a bathroom on campus. There was no pencil attached but there were other similar postings around the walls of the bathroom with Splenda packets taped to them.
When you look at the various finds for a while they begin to come together to form a picture of people; of individuals' mundane lives, of their most notable moments in the day, of their failures in love, and of their kids' misbehavior. Found Magazine can be said to do for people (as a whole) what Candy Jernigan did for herself-- it honors the smallest aspects and evidences of living.

Candy Jernigan

An artist whose work is relevant to my craving for the tactile nature of objects is Candy Jernigan. She obsessively documented her existance, collecting fragments from her day like coke tabs, bugs, empty cigarette packs, and scraps of paper. She combined these bits into something between a scrapbook, travel journal, and an artists' book, often incorporating annotations, drawings, and doodles.

This is a map of my thinkings on "thingness".
(Click on it to enlarge- if you want to try to decipher my scrawl and think about how technology and tactility relate).

Monday, September 28, 2009

The thing itself

I've been thinking lately about "thing-ness"; about tactile objects in an increasingly digital age.

I love holding books, marking in them, dog-earing pages, finding notes from friends or roommates or previous owners of the book in the margin, marks that record their struggles or revelations.

I enjoy the experience of opening a cd book and flipping through the old mix cds with the handwriting of people I love. Scrolling through an ipod, with its sleek chirpy-clicky sound, seems weirdly sterile.

I don't like screens. The idea of interacting with a book by just looking at its text while scrolling down a screen is sad to me. Reducing a book to just information seems like a big jump.

Technology serves some wonderful purposes. But I think we need to be more judicious with its use, and that we (as a culture) need to balance all of our digital communicating with some good ole hangin' out.