Sunday, October 29, 2006

Amsterdam on the Diagonal (A Miswalk)

(Hotel Amsterdam from the Amstel canal)

Yesterday I did our class assignment of going on a "miswalk" of Amsterdam. A "miswalk" consists of creating a new way to walk and explore the city in an interesting or off-kilter manner. The goal of this assignment was essentially too get lost in Amsterdam and encounter unexpected things (you know, psychogeography and all that).

My miswalk of Amsterdam consisted of traveling across the city in a diagonal line of sorts. The pattern that I created alternated between walking one block north and one block west. While this pattern was pretty fun to follow, it was sometimes not very exacting; I was thrown off course several times by canals, dead ends, and the event of walking in squares (this occurred when the block on which I walked curved too far back in the direction from which I had just come).

I began my walk at Leidseplein Square because I figured that its bustling surroundings would provide more interesting things to see than those of the residential neighborhood in which we are staying. After witnessing the crowds, tourists, and neon signs of Leidesplein Square, I walked into a more typical, residential neighborhood. The most exciting things that I saw in this area were a Yellow Bike tour, and a piece of metal that flew off of another bike that rode past me. After this little residential lull, I approached Dam Square, as well as complete change of setting. The increase in the noise level alone was, to me, the most noticeable change as it signaled an entirely different environment, one filled with people shopping, milling around, and speaking in different languages. After I had become a bit frustrated by walking around in two successive squares, I entered a narrow shopping alley, and just as I thought I couldn’t handle seeing another loud tourist, I emerged from the alley, and was directly across from Centraal Station. This was a nice confirmation of my pattern, as I had originally assumed that I would come out somewhere near the Station.

From Centraal Station, I began to follow the same pattern of walking one block “up” and one block left, this time going south and east. The most interesting/disturbing part of my miswalk occurred during this second half in, where else, the Red Light District. I actually had no idea that I was heading directly towards it, but I knew where I was as soon as I reached it by the crowds of people of all ethnicities walking slowly and looking from one sex shop to the next. At first I felt a bit odd walking by myself in this area, but once I realized that there were other women walking around-granted, they were all in groups with other people-I felt comforted in some way by the female presence.

As the time for me to make a cube approached, I was still very much in the heart of the Red Light District. I remembered that some people in our program said that you couldn’t take pictures of prostitutes in the District, but I didn’t see any, at least as far as I could tell, so I figured it would be okay to take pictures. I was about to stop at an intersection and make my cube when I noticed a rather shady looking man standing there, watching me. Needless to say, I kept walking, but did not feel any more comfortable stopping in front of any of the various sex shops to take pictures. It was at this point that I noticed that some of the men I passed were looking at me in a fairly disquieting way; the fact that I was a young female walking alone in the Red Light District set in, and I no longer felt comfortable. As my discomfort with the situation increased, a man came up to me, grabbed my arm, and said something along the lines of, “Hello beautiful miss. Can I ask you something?” I immediately pulled my arm away, said “no,” and walked up the block as fast as I could. I didn’t stop until I was several blocks away, and only after I gathered myself did I make my cube. Thus, one side of cube number seven of my miswalk features the Red Light District, from a distance (it is the side with neon lights).

After this encounter, the rest of my miswalk will probably seem fairly uneventful, unless you count admiring the beauty of canals and bridges as excitement, which I certainly do! I don’t know how many canals I passed, crossed over, and looked at during my miswalk, but each one seemed unique and noteworthy in some way. I think one reason why the canals interest me so much is because each one creates a small division in the city, yet it also feels like the city is united by the presence of the canals, and thus also by these divisions. You can also feel the incredible, historical significance of the bridges and canals when you walk across or even see them, and I very much like the idea of being able to walk through and thus access history on a more personal level. The end of my walk occurred at such a point, or at least I felt that it was important because it was a fairly large intersection of two different canals, and presented an amazing view of four different directions one could take to explore Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, ik vind je erg aardig.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ik zou graag naar de speelzaal.

(Advert for vlogging program)

XOLO!!! Today we were fortunate enough to have Marc von Woudenberg of visit our IES classroom. I say fortunate enough because the “lecture” (Power Point yet again) was extremely informative, at least to a not very media literate person such as myself. For those of you that don’t know, is a company that creates video blogs, or vlogs, for various businesses, including Coca Cola and BMW, amongst others.

Today was the first time that I got a clear understanding of what video blogging actually means, and also of the potential that it has. Vlogging allows anyone to make a video and post it to the internet, or to a specific streaming source. Videos that appear in vlogs, however, are different than videos that would appear on say youtube, for example, because they are presented in the form of one person or a small group of people in front of the camera, talking about different subjects. Similar to blogging, vlogging is also sort of like an online diary that other people can access. Some people (or vloggers) make vlogs simply for fun, while others are incredibly serious about theirs and make them for informative purposes. There are, of course, vloggers who mix the two extremes, and they seem to be the most successful. I think this is due to the fact that the information they present is made more accessible, and thus more enjoyable to watch, through humor.

Apparently vlogging can be quite a controversial issue as some people in our group got into a fairly heated debate with Marc over the present state and future possibilities of vlogging. John offered some criticism of the current state by mentioning how as soon as people got wind of this vlogging trend, they made vlogs about funny or ridiculous things, instead of about serious matters that could impact or at least inform the world. John eventually added that though he is completely for alternative forms of media, and also for humorous outlets, he wonders why vlogging can’t be done in a more mature manner. Rachel offered an excellent metaphor in response to this inquiry: she said that if we think of the internet, and specifically the new vlogging medium, as a child, this is its early, immature stage, and it will be a number of years before it reaches a more adult state.

A concern of mine with the whole vlogging (r)evolution is that the different sections of society who don’t have/can’t afford computers or other media consuls in their homes, or even in a more public place, will be excluded from the movement. And if all of our media sources shift more or less to the internet, will these sections of society be missing out, once again, on being informed citizens? Our class also discussed the issue of media literacy, and how children in the US public schools system aren’t receiving any sort of instruction in how to create, digest, and especially analyze the images with which they are presented, in both new and old media.

This bothered me greatly, as I see media literacy, as well as the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is exaggerated, as yet another way that the increasingly large gap between those who are privileged and those who are not will grow. Disturbing. I simply hope that my concerns will be proven wrong, and that the internet (r)evolution will continue to be a bottom-up process. However, seeing as corporations are beginning to jump on the vlogging bandwagon and make vlogs that appear to be grassroots in nature, I am a bit hesitant with this hope, especially if people already have difficulty in differentiating between what is real and what is exaggerated in the media.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mag ik een stukje film van U nemen?

(Us at the Waag Society. Fleur, far left, and Sam, in the fun sweater, are the Society directors.)

In my humble opinion, today’s group adventure was probably the most enjoyable excursion that we’ve had so far. We went to the Waag Society, which is a center for Netherlandish art, culture, media development, and research. The Waag organizes educational events, deals with artists’ rights, makes interactive media programs for disabled and illiterate people, and builds furniture through which media can be presented (such as a round table with simple interfaces for the elderly to feel comfortable accessing). We met with the two directors of the Society, Sam and Fleur, in their castle-like structure in the center of Waag Square. They gave us a run down of the history of the building, and it is a very important site. One of the rooms is apparently where doctors performed anatomical dissections during the Dutch Golden Age, and is also where Rembrandt, one of the greatest Dutch painters, made sketches for his famous The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp painting.

After learning, in detail, what the Waag Society does (Amsterdam is big on Power Point presentations), and at the insistence of the Society directors, each of us students presented our final projects to the group. This was a hold your breath sort of moment, as some of us are a bit nervous about/don’t have a lot of professional confidence in our projects yet. I, however, thought that the projects all sounded really interesting, some even quite innovative, and I am looking forward to seeing them executed in Berlin. Before we broke for lunch, John announced that upon our return we would be making mini-projects inspired by our visit to the Waag Society as a sort of thank you/fun thing to do. So, we ended up taking over this incredibly old and historically significant building in order to make-what else?- New Media!

The group that I was in became extremely familiar with the Anatomy Lecture mentioned before, as we made a tableau vivant inspired by it, new media style. Instead of having a corpse as the subject of the dissection, we used a computer: we opened its circuit box and placed some of the wires and cords on the table to mirror human innards. We had 8 people pose in the photograph, which is the same number of people in the painting. To lend real credibility to our photograph, we had John pose as the authoritative “doctor;” he held a pair of pliers and some circuits in his hand to imitate the dissection of the corpse’s arm.

This project was really fun, not only because we got to stand in ridiculous poses and make each other laugh while trying to remain stoic, but also because it provided us with an opportunity to become pretty familiar with the details of the painting. Through this newfound familiarity, we discovered that none of the subjects in the painting are actually looking at the corpse; they are all staring off into different directions. We tried to determine why Rembrandt might have painted the scene in this manner, and the best answer that we came up with was that the dissection was too gruesome to look at directly, especially from a close distance. I think this is a pretty accurate deduction, but I also wonder if the indirect gazes don’t have something to do with creating a study of 8 separate facial expressions. I also wonder if the goal of the painting has something to do with debunking the (likely) automatic assumption of the viewer that the 8 subjects are looking at the corpse. That would be a neat little subversive trick. Oh Rembrandt, what was your genius self thinking?

Friday, October 20, 2006

iets maakt een knarsend geluid!

(Jacob Vossestein, Dutch cultural expert)

This morning we had a “lecture” (Power Point presentation) on Dutch culture and the Dutch character by Jacob Vossestein. Mr. V usually gives these lectures to business people from abroad who are going to work with Dutch people/companies. The presentation consisted of segments such as history, geography, work ethic, politics, tolerance (and the recent intolerance toward Islam), drug usage, and family structure. The overall picture that Mr. V painted of the Dutch was that they are very direct, love discussions and asserting that their opinions are correct, believe in doing things for themselves, and don’t believe in being overly polite.

Comparisons between Dutch and American cultures inevitably sprang up, and this led to a rather interesting discussion. Apparently Americans have a "can do" attitude that the Dutch would rather do away with altogether. For example, instead of offering encouragement to complete a task, they offer “constructive criticism” in order to ensure that it’s done correctly the next time. I think this illustrates well what Mr. V was trying to emphasize as the main difference between the two cultures: the Dutch don’t believe in wasting time making pleasantries with people that they don’t know, while Americans usually try to be polite to the random people they encounter. One reason Mr. V gave for this difference is that in the Netherlands, workers are paid better than in the US, and thus they don’t receive tips, and thus they don’t have to be polite. Now, while this might explain why retail/restaurant workers are overly friendly in the US, it doesn’t explain why Americans in general are usually polite (I guess I should also state that “polite” is a relative term, and that not everyone in the US is polite; believe me).

This discussion got a little awkward when the question of how can one make assertions about an entire people based upon assumptions, generalizations, and stereotypes was raised. Mr. V was quick to point out that some stereotypes are in fact true, or are at least based on some sort of reality. I think that the issue of assertion based on assumption is an extremely slippery slope to navigate, and I’m sure that anthropologists struggle with it all the time. While I realize that such assertions are necessary to gain at least some sort of insight on a culture/people, and that oftentimes they are fairly accurate reflections of the culture, I am still apprehensive about broad, sweeping generalizations. Maybe this is naive, but I don’t like to group people of one country/region into one large lump. I wonder: if each person is an individual, how are generalizations possible?

This discussion was quite the informative experience. Not only did I learn about Dutch culture, but I also heard firsthand about the Western European opinion of the US. And since the Dutch are such a direct people (...), Mr. V was very clear in his sentiments. At first, I felt that Mr. V was a bit abrasive, but after a while I realized that it’s better to know these opinions than to ignore them. Especially as the decisions that the US makes have an effect that reverberates around the world (according to Mr. V).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Goeden Morgen Amsterdam! Ik ben student.

(Bicycle Mark and our group)

Seeing as we just arrived in Amsterdam yesterday, there haven't been any New Media related events yet. So, I'll relate some of the "things I did today." This morning we had an orientation with our IES contacts, and our classroom is in a building that is actually a part of the Social Sciences and Humaninties building of the University of Amsterdam. It's kind of a long trek to get there, but Mark, our IES coordinator came to "pick us up" and show us the way. I'm hoping that after we make the trip there several times, it won't seem as bad. Not that it's bad now because Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. Even with the cloudy and chilly weather this morning, we were still in awe of the city and its numerous canals, bridges, and bicyclers. The bikes are definitly something to watch for though; I feel as if they are more dangerous than cars because the drivers here actually slow down when they approach you in the street. The bikes, like the cars in London, simply drive through where you're standing. Another possible traffic hasard to watch for are the trams. We took one to Central Station this morning, and though they swerve quite a bit, they are nice because you get to be above ground and actually see the city as you travel. It's a nice change from being in the dark underground.

Tonight we went to the Muziektheater to see the National Ballet's production of Carmen. Before the ballet, though, members of the company performed 2 differernt modern/ballet pieces that were quite beautiful. Also beautiful is the way in which Amsterdam's canals and bridges are lit at night, with what look like large Christmas bulbs. (I have been in a Christmas-y mood since September, and couldn't help thinking how quaint it must be here during that time of year.) Tomorrow we have a lecture on the Dutch culture/character, so that should be interesting...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

hello, i'm pretentious

Is it just me, or is there a rule stating that all contemporary art has to be highly conceptual, at least somewhat disturbing, and slightly inaccessible to the general public? After visiting the Hayward Gallery and following a tour by one of its critics/artists/fellows, it seems to me that that is a reasonable conclusion. Toward the end of the tour, the guide showed us a fairly impressive chandellier, but said that he wasn't sure if the artist was a major new voice beacuase he makes pretty things. He went on to say that most girls who visit the Gallery like this artists' chandelliers because they are pretty, and they don't have a complicated message.

I found this statement to be a bit disturbing for two reasons. The first was becuase it felt as if the tour guide was completely writing off any contemporary art that was in the least bit aesthetically pleasing, as if he finds it too simplistic and popular to be of any value. The second reason was that he said this statement so nonchalantly that, as a girl, I felt a bit offended. It was like, oh, silly girls like pretty things and don't care if they mean anything or not. I feel that if people visit Hayward in the first place they are most likely trying to expose themselves to a type of art with which they are not too familiar. And while yes, some people may initially gravitate toward a style that they already know they like, I would think that most people who visit Hayward know it's a contemporary gallery and will wander around, trying to understand the art that they are seeing.

The fact that this visit was not what I expected it to be was also a bit upsetting because the gallery itself is an admirable space. It is funded in part by the government, which means that it purchases significant contemporary pieces with the intention that they will be fairly accessible to the general public. The Hayward also doesn't have a permanant collection, which means that the featured pieces change on a regular basis. I feel that this would provide Londoners with the unique opportunity to see a wide range of art each time they go to the gallery. There was even a table by the exit where you could fill out a comment card. I filled one out about a piece of what I call text art (a large banner with text about changing the world written on it). In conclusion, I feel that if someone who's not completely crazy about contemporary art like myself is able to find some way to relate to it, people like our tour guide can be a bit more open to why different people like different types of art. Different strokes for different folks, folks.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

TATE-r tots are delicious

(Entry to the Tate Britain. The blurry part says TATE.)

London surprised me this afternoon in a pleasant way. Let's just say that I wasn't having the best morning, and I was tempted to stay around ISH and sulk, but I didn't. I ventured out into the wide world and was rewarded with the best possible place I could've gone: the">Tate Britain. The TB is a (free!) museum that exclusively features British art. It is divided into two main sections: one highlighting art from 1500-1900, and one dedicated to art after 1900. I expored the first section today (I like to do things chronologically), and took as much time as was necessary to examine the pieces and read the curiatorial paragraphs in an attempt to gain a real understanding of the differnt stages of British art. The museum traces the evolution of British art, dividing the rooms by styles: portraiture, landscape, Romanticism, Orientalism, the Pre-raphialites, and Victorian spectacle. There were also special rooms exhibiting works of John Constable and John Singer Sargent, amongst others.

The TB was an ideal place for me to go today because it has a lot of beautiful art. It's just that simple. Except it's not simple because a lot of the styles shown at the Tate are intricate and exaggerated and sumptuous. They just happen to be aesthetically pleasing on top of all of that. And personally, if I'm going to spend a couple of hours looking at art, I'd prefer it to be at least slightly aesthetically pleasing. I think I was also so taken with the pieces at the TB because they are sort of a big change from a lot of the art that we've been looking at lately; I mean, portraiture is about as far from contemporary as you can get. Although, these styles were techinically contemporary at one point, and some of them were even controvertial. So I guess that demonstrates how it's not just our generation that's pushing boundries; it has happened in the past, is obviously happening now, and will continue on, I'm sure. I just wonder what the future of (pleasant) aesthetics will include. The present state of art (no offense intended) inspires me to pose the question, are aesthetics dying out? I hope not.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Frieze, mothers

("Text art" at the Frieze.)

This afternoon we had the jolly good luck to go to the Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park. The Frieze is the most reknown contemporary art fair in the world, this year showcasing 150 international galleries, as well as. Interestingly enough, we saw several of the galleries we'd seen in Chelsea in Manhattan represented at the Fair. We were originally planning on attending the fair yesterday, but as it was VIP/Press Day and we are not technically press, we got turned away. Some people did, however, see Claudia Schiffer; I did not.

The reason that we tried to get in on press day is that we are producing an hour long program for Resonance FM, the first London-based art radio station. We signed up in small groups or individually to produce various audio segments for the program, ranging from vox pops, to interviews, to narratives, to reviews. I am working on the last category, reviews. Julia and I are attempting to make a 5 minute review of the Fair. I said "attempting" not because we are struggling with the production, but, on the contrary, because we had such a great time making the audio recording that we have a lot of really funny material to sift through. So now we are just editing it down.

In essence, our review introduces the Fair, then focuses in on what we have deemed "text art." TA, as we've defined it, is art that is mostly, if not entirely, made of text. We were inspired to talk about this genre after seeing "Diagonal Nude" by Fiona Banner. This piece is essentially an enormous canvas with handwriting scrawled on it. At first I wasn't too impressed by it, but after reading the text I realized that it was a description of the image that a painting or drawing could be. It describes a woman, and the position of her nude body within the frame. This was interesting because although I was simply reading text, I saw an actual image. This, however, lead us to question whether the two varieties of TA are actually art since they consist primarily of words (the first variety is just words, the second contains words and some images mixed in). I think it depends on what the piece does for you individually, and that your reaction determines whether it is art. I feel that although "Diagonal Nude" is just words, it created an image in my mind, and that, for me, was an artistic experience. Some of the other TA that we saw, however, did not inspire any images in my mind's eye, and thus I did not feel that I could classify them as art. I guess that is extremely subjective, but if I've learned anything today, it's that contemporary art is extremely subjective. I mean, obviously most people could create some of the "pieces" that appear in galleries nowadays, so it's got to be. I don't mean to sound old fashioned by saying "nowadays," but I do rather enjoy aesthetically pleasing works.

Ah, aesthetics. They raise an entirely new issue, one that I am not sure I should get into...but what the hey. Is it just me, or is art just not pretty anymore? Is it just me, or are other people somewhat disturbed by this? Or if not disturbed, at least a bit perturbed. So, contemporary art, at least as I understand it, is in large part motivated to challenge the notion of art as an aesthetically pleasing medium. Incase you're wondering where I got this theory, it's pretty much apparent after one venture into a con. gallery or musuem. As we have done a lot of this, I feel like I have a lot of examples. Anyway, while I understand and condone the idea of pushing the limits of what people consider to be "art" or "beautiful," I still don't necessarily understand how some things are considered to be art.

Today some people also saw Emma Watson at the Fest; I, however, did not. Boo hoo.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

See Mee

(The CCTV control room in East Ham.)

Today we went to the "best" CCTV station in London to see what the current state of British security is like. CCTV stands for Closed Circuit Television, and it is essentially a network of security cameras placed in various locations in each of the 30-odd bouroughs of London. We went to the station located in East Ham, and I feel that it was the perfect day to do this type of thing; the weather was cloudy and rainy, and thus perfect for some good government conspiracy theorizing. The station is located in a sort of bland, almost rundown building, and once we were buzzed in we had to pass through a narrow hallway and a seemingly endless series of green doors until we reached a reception room. We then divided into two groups to see the control room, and I thought it was kind of surprising that we were allowed to take photos inside of it, so long as we didn't "zoom in on the monitors." I think I actually found this to be the most problematic part of the entire tour; if this is such an incredibly secure room, and the monitoring that the employees do there is so important, why are outsiders with no security qualifications allowed to take photos? We could've easily zoomed in on anything that we wanted. It seems an odd sort of irony that we were watching people, but almost weren't supposed to acknowledge that fact.

I was in the first group to tour the control room, and as soon as we entered it I felt some tension between certain people in the group and the two station managers that led the tour. The tension stemmed mostly from the fact that the managers made statements that sounded as if they were completely certain that what they were doing was for the greater good, and that there was no questioning it. However, there were definitely some people in our group of liberal Liberal Arts students that questioned it; needless to say, there were some interesting exchanges. There was also a female control room employee watching monitors right in front of us, and when asked whether or not she liked the cameras, she said that although it is a bit creepy to know that people can basically watch your every move on camera, she is glad that they exist for security reasons.

My take:
One thing that I found a bit suspicous about the whole visit was that when someone posed the question of whether or not the cables that stream the camera feed to the station have ever been tampered with or hacked, the two managers answered "no" in exactly the same tone of voice at exactly the same moment. This led me to wonder, why did that response sound rehearsed? That, however, was about as conspiracy theory-ed as I got. I personally don't see what the big deal is if there are cameras around the city. Yes, I understand that a lot of people feel that this is an invasion of privacy, but I don't have anything to hide at the moment, and if cameras mean that the streets will be more secure, then I don't really have a problem with them. If (and I suppose when) this technology is used by the government or anyone to enforce rules that don't support the freedoms that we currently enjoy, then I will have a problem with it. I feel like this visit exposed me to the fact that we are much closer to a 1984 -like society than I would have thought. I did find kind of disturbing the fact that, on average, one can appear on camera about 300 times a day in central London. It's very bizarre to think that I could be photographed that many times a day, especially when I am just a visitor.

One concern of mine, though, is what are the implications of simply using cameras to catch criminals instead of creating preventitive programs, legislation, etc., to try to curb crime in the first place? If lots of money, time, and effort are put into catching criminals instead of preventing "criminal" behavior, then I don't think that crime will ever actually decrease; it seems like it will just continue at its current and alarming rate. Not that I believe that crime would necessarily decrease on a large scale even with preventitive measures (that would take a worldwide revolution, and I don't think that will occur, barring some sort of universal catastrophe), but maybe some small scale changes would occur. Because while the CCTV station managers said that crime decreases when a new camera is installed, they also said that when this happens, crime in another area goes up because the criminals simply shift their location. And apparently this shift is not even permanent because the managers also said that surveiled areas sometimes return to their previous levels of criminal activity. So, are the cameras even effective? Please, ponder with me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

An Audio Do Da Day

(Karina, Terin, Julia, and Alissa making music.)

Today we had quite the audio experience. We had a Bent Music session in our classroom at Birkbeck College. A man named Ben came in and talked to us about his love of distorted/hacked music. He did much more than talk, however, as he demonstrated his own sound projects and then allowed us to take toys apart to create our own sounds. The concept of distorted/hacked music is basically the process of taking apart toys, guitar petals, stereos, or anything that can make sound, and manipulating their circuit borads in order to create a new and interesting mixture of sounds. We watched Ben play and create "music" with a Furby's circuit board, and then watched him attach the circuit board to another toy's board to mix and project the sounds. While it is an interesting concept, Ben seemed more excited than I felt about the screeching sounds being music. But hey, as long as he was passionate about it and teaching others how to do interesting things with audio, good for him.

My scepticism of the session was put aside, however, when we actually got to make sounds ourselves. Simply taking apart the toys was fun enough because that's something that I could never do as a child. And as if that wasn't enough, we got to scratch and bend the circuit boards to make the sounds screech, warble, mute, etc. I took apart a toy phone, and though it's circuit board didn't really produce any spectacular results, it was still fun to play with. Eventually, people began hooking their toys together to mix the differnt sounds, and then we created stereos to project the hideous sounds even louder. I wonder if we disturbed anyone in the building; there was definitly a class next to us...

Continuing in the vein of our audio day, and in preparation for the radio show we will be creating on Thursday, we had an audio workshop. I am glad to say that 16 people showed up and were able to fit into the room that 5 of us girls are sharing (it's very tight quarters, but we are managing well). We basically learned about different types of mics and where to hold them, and listened to/looked at several examples that Terin (our audio guru) made/projected on our wall as examples of good and bad interviews. So, I am looking forward to creating a little talk show segment about the Frieze Art Fair with Julia. We'll see how that actually goes...Yea for new mediums!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Discoveries

(Photo of street art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY)

This has been a weekend of working, if I do say so myself. Although, compared to the kids that spend all night every night working, I've probably not accomplished an incredibly impressive amount. But I am not here to compare myself to them; I can only do what I can do, and that does not include staying up till 3am! Anyways, this weekend I worked on my blog and my photos. Today has been especially eye-opening, as I made a banner for my blog in Photoshop, thanks to Rachel's help (yeah Rachel! you should check out her awesome blog). It was the first time that I used Photoshop, but it really reminded me of a graphics program that I used a bit in elementary school. I was kind of like, what's the big deal? But I suppose there are lots of complicated things that one could do with it that I have not even begun to imagine. It does sort of seem like whenever there's a picture in print or on the internet nowadays people discuss whether it's been "Photoshoped."

I guess I feel kind of conflicted about the whole Photoshop issue. On the one hand, it is incredibly useful for people who want to create graphics, or make very specific adjustments to photographs. On the other hand, it raises an important polemic: should everyone who makes "art" in Photoshop be considered an artist? Does Photoshop degrade art by making its production available to everyone? Or should it be praised for making something that's somewhat exclusive, inclusive? I don't have the answer to these questions, and I certainly don't have enough experience with creating art to attempt to answer. But I will anyway: I think that if someone actually puts the time, effort, and most importantly, passion into their Photoshop work, then isn't that as much art as anything else? If not, is holding a tool such as a pencil or paintbrush the key to creating art? If this were true, then this New Media Roadtrip would be based on something false, and I do not believe that it is. We absolutely have reason to be on this program, and I am not just saying that because we get to travel to amazing places; I am saying it because art is moving into the technological future, just as everything else is. Due to this move, art will likely become something that more people can or are willing to create. We already see this in all the independent cinema and music that exists, and it can also be seen in the most cutting edge galleries and museums.

I know that, small and unprofessional as it is, I am proud of my banner. It was a new venture for me, and the fact that it turned out pretty well was very exciting for me. I think it's important to keep in mind that there are lots of people (like me) who are not extremely tech savvy, but would like to learn how to create New Media. Therefore, little achievements for them are actually big, and shouldn't they thus have the right to feel good about their creations?


This is minimalism at its best. Enjoy.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Tale of Two Spaces

(Artifacts from the East Asian section of the British Museum)

Today I went back to the British Museum, and afterward I couldn't help but compare it to the Institute for Contemporary Art, which we visited on Thursday. The first and most immediate difference between the two spaces is that the British Museum is exactly that, a museum, and the Institite is a gallery/arts center. Museums seem to cater more to the average person (and often family) that wishes to see historical art/artifacts and learn a little something. Galleries, on the other hand, feel quite different; at least to me. They are much more exclusive, not so much in that they will turn you away outright, but in that they promote a very elite idea of what art is and who should own it. This message is conveyed by modern gallery design, which seems to always be utterly white and almost painfully minimalistic, and by the price of the art itself. I honestly don't know anyone who could afford to purchase gallery pieces on a regular basis, even though I do know that such people exist. (Perhaps I am thinking more of the Chelsea gallery scene in Manhattan because we were just there.)

I don't mean to criticize galleries or the people that buy art from them, but I am of the mind that art is something that should be accessible to anyone who wants to see it. This is why I am completely smitten by and continually return to places like the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the Chicago Institute of Arts, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, etc. I love the fact that you can see so many different types of people at these institutions, all wanting to see (and hopefully learn) something interesting.

Galleries are, however, probably the best place to go to see the most contemporary art that exists, as new exhibitions come out on a monthly basis. Obviously, both spaces have their merits, and it is interesting to continually go between them during this program. Both types of institutions provide all of us with the opportunity to explore the past and see into the future through the cutting edge art that is being produced everyday. I think that between museums and galleries, I am having quite the art experience on this trip, which is fantasic.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

London Calling

(Globe Theatre)

Here we are, safe and sound in London. This has certainly been an interesting, exhausing several days. But, that is the whirlwind nature of our program. We are staying in another place called International Student's House, but it is of a far lesser quality than the one in New York. Yesterday we went to the Globe Theatre and saw Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors. It was a very funny production, and it was pretty cool that the theatre is an open air one. I was just happy that we were sitting down and not in the standing room only section.

Our first New Media activities were today, and the more intersting of the two was our visit to John Wyver and his Illuminations television production studio. Wyver has worked with Illuminations for almost 25 years, and recently won an international Emmy (which is incredibly impressive). Illuminations produces art and avant-garde related programming for British Public Television. And as it turns out, John Schott and John Wyver have known each other since both were producers of arts programs in the 1980s. (I must admit that John Schott has the most amazing contacts, and they seem to be everywhere.)

During our session with Wyver, we discussed the differences between British and American public television, and how the British actually have an allotted amount in their television budget for arts programming, unlike in the US. It's sad to think that arts programming receives the shaft in the US, especially when it is innovative and interesting like the programs that Illuminations creates. As an example, they won the Emmy for their televised production of the opera Gloriana. It was an innovative production because it mixed footage of the actual opera with behind the scenes footage of the lead actress preparing for her role; all of this to establish both the main character and the actress that portrays her as the center of their respective realms.

Monday, October 02, 2006

You, Robot?

(Kokoro and Einstein at NextFest)

This past weekend was no exception to our habitual festival visits. On Saturday, we went to Wired NextFest, which is an annual convention that displays gadgets and technologies that lead right into the future. There were many impressive, innovative, and just plain funny inventions, but (as usual) I would like to address a somewhat serious issue and discuss the area of the convention designated as Robot Row. Maybe I am simply paranoid, but I can't help thinking of such movies as I, Robot and Blade Runner when viewing these new robotic technologies. I feel like saying, haven't we learned anything from the movies? Yes, I will acknowledge the fact that movies are not the best source of truthful information, but I found it somewhat alarming that the NextFest guide itself states, "Sure, robots will one day be our masters." ...!

I also feel that a very serious issue with robots is how some are created as gender specific. There were many female robots at NextFest, and though they are inanimate objects, each still displayed the stereotypical, idealistic, female characteristics of large breasts and tiny waists, and many of them were created to perform servile functions. The most disturbing of these robots, in my opinion, was one named Kokoro. This was by far the most advanced robot I've ever seen; I didn't even know that robots of this caliber existed. Kokoro is an Actroid, which means that she was designed to perform various functions in different situations. She could be a receptionist, a nanny, or perform any sort of meet and greet duties.

My main concern with Kokoro is that her features and gestures are extremely humanistic, to the point that I worry whether she could actually replace a human. More specifically, that she could replace a woman. I feel that this concern is actually grounded in some form of reality due to the fact that when I was looking at the display of Kokoro, it didn't take too long before some men behind me began to make sexist remarks, which almost (and sadly) seem apparently inevitable when looking at an object that has obviously been extremely feminised. They said something in the vein of Kokoro being able to do everything a real woman could without causing any of the difficulties that real women do. Aside from being incredibly offended, it also made me wonder what kind of problems that robots such as Kokoro will create in the future. (Lest we not forget the "pleasure robots"of Blade Runner.) More alarming, though, is the thought that perhaps some people would prefer an object to a real woman because the robot would have no choice but to follow orders. What does this mean for women in the future, and for humanity in general? I don't mean to call doomsday here, but I do think that this is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed in conjunction with the evoution of technology; one should not advance without the other. I just don't want the importance of real people to be forgotten amidst the excitement of new techonlogies.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

MOMA, man

(Detail of a Jackson Pollock painting.)

Incase you don't know what MOMA stands for, it's the Museum of Modern Art, a very famous and well respected museum, which I visited yesterday for the first time. The museum is full of very important (Starry Night by Van Gogh) and genre defining pieces (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso), but I would like to briefly discuss the viewing of paint itself. It is a process that I find fascinating. One of my favorite things to do in a museum is to look at a painting from the average distance, and to then get extremely close to it-so close that it makes the security guards inch closer to me in anxiety-in order to examine the textures and application patterns of the paint. I don't do this with the intension of making anyone angry with me for either endangering the painting or blocking their view; I do it because it helps me relate to the piece.

When I look closely at a painting , it almost feels as if I am in the studio with the artist at the time of the painting's creation; it somehow puts the piece in the present tense. Seeing the actual texture of the paint invokes the image of brushstrokes in motion, which invokes the image of the artist at work. And thinking of the artist makes the experience more personal, as I know that it was a human being who perhaps has some of the same emotions and concerns that I have that made the piece. It brings art from the realm of the obscure to one that is intimate and understandable. This all combines to make the museum experience one that is highly meaningful to and enjoyable for me. I hope this makes you excited to go to a museum or gallery.

Firsts and Lasts

(Our props on the table in Central Park. Notice the New York-esque Diet Coke with straw. Joe, Jeremy, Caitlin, and Kristen in the background.)

Well, here we are, the last full day in New York City. Despite how I thought I might feel, or even how I felt after first arriving, I am actually sad to be leaving so soon. These 3 weeks have been more than amazing; possibly due to the fact that this was my first visit to NYC, to our awesome experiences with art and media, to the people I'm meeting on this program, or to any combination therein. Whatever it is, I can say with certainty that I will always remember this first city on our roadtrip with a smile on my face and a flutter of my heart. (I would just like to point out for those of you who don't know me personally that I am being completely sincere.) I think the thing that I like most about NYC is that it is just so alive; there are people everywhere, each one trying to make their way and live in the best way they know how. I am trying to picture myself in this city, and it seems to me that it would fit my artsy, active sensibilities. There is, however, the issue of money to think about...Networking anyone?

Another first on this last day was that I "acted" on camera for some friends' project. Rachel, Jeremy, and Julian are making a short fictional movie about spies, technology, and trans-city adventures, and I played a friend of the main character. It was pretty fun to do sound checks and mess with mics and seating arrangements, especially as this all took place in Central Park, specifically the Children's Zoo. We also used several props, including the ultra chic sun glasses I bought the first week here (I was supposed to look like a New Yorker with attitude; yes, funny). We ran the scene 4 times, with semi-scripted, semi-improvisational dialogue. It wasn't as embarrassing as I was scared it might be, and I will admit that my dreams of Hollywood glory were rekindled a bit.