“Border Control” by Fritz Haeg

I like this piece in Frieze magazine by Fritz Haeg, concerning borders and territories in the contemporary art market. Haeg has a refreshing critical view on the role of boundaries and titles in art…

Would it be helpful or liberating to live in a world where we could make what we want to see and do what we want to feel, only later deciding or understanding what it is, or how it should be classified? Ideas and impulses would be the motivation, and only later would the discipline be revealed. […] Children naturally operate this way, but it’s the opposite of how most formal education works.

Also enjoyed this quote:

If I am interested in gardening, I don’t want to make work about gardens, I become a gardener, and go out into the city and make a garden. If I am interested in dance, I don’t want to make work about dancing, I enter into the dance community, and make dances in the streets.

Bruce Sterling on “Atemporality”

Comprehensive Happines Study

Somebody sent me this article. Reading it now. Seems like a complex and interesting study, and potentially a good addition to my thesis paper.

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.

Article is from the Atlantic, and can be read here.


Kelly Dobson’s work: Machines, Documentation, “Hypercontext”

I was recommended to look at the work of Kelly Dobson, who studied at MIT media lab in the Computer Culture Group. I quite like her projects, from what I’ve seen. She works at the intersection of critical design and art performance for video. I like her documentation videos and how she demonstrates things such as the “Blendie” project.

From her website:

Critical infoldings happen in the connections between people and machines, and my work in Machine Therapy investigates these engagements.

In her project, “Blendie”, Dobson “sings” along with her interactive blender. I think I saw this piece once and I felt too shy to growl at it. I like this way it works in a documentation video like this, where Dobson is “performing” the blender.

Update: Talked to Peter Lunenfeld for a while about this. I was presenting some ideas I had about addressing documentation as an integral part of the work. We referenced these projects and he introduced the term hypercontext. I latched on to this idea: creating a whole context around which the work exists, and turning the documentation into more than just a display of how something works, but also the environment in which it exists.

Gross National Happiness

I read some references online recently about global efforts to measure “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). The chief case study is Bhutan, which actively espouses this measure and claims that it can effectively gauge GNH. Here’s an interesting WIkipedia article on the topic, in which it is stated that:

GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:

  1. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
  2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
  3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses
  4. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
  5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
  6. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
  7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

It follows, that if you can “quantify” National Happiness, you can also “quantify” National Unhappiness. Yeah, I know this whole thing is a bit fuzzy, but I’m thinking of it less in an empirical sense and more in just a poetic and interesting/funny sense. And since National Unhappiness is so frequently the discussion of late, I found this idea particularly cogent.

I’ve pulled back a little bit and decided to just start sketching out ideas. My hope is to define one strong concept and invent 3-5 machines/systems/pieces for the rest of the year. I’ll post progress work as it’s available. The general theme will concern this idea of national/individual unease. I’m thinking to create machines that measure/frustrate/alleviate/reflect on this idea of National Unhappiness. I still have to articulate this better…

Touch Me.

I found a website for this exhibition, which took place in 2005 at the V&A Museum in London.

There’s a couple interesting references, and a bit of writing about Krzysztof Wodiczko and Richard Wentworth, both mentioned elsewhere on this blog.


Notes on Jack Burnham

I want to make sure I have some cybernetic theory on my radar. Cybernetics may not seem to related directly to my current interests, but in fact there is much commentary on complex systems, intelligence, how people interact with objects and sculptures, the expanding role of kinetic art, etc. Not to mention most of these incredibly advanced theories and ideas were penned by Burnham in 1968, well before widespread commercial availability of computers and cheap microprocessors.

Here are some scattered notes and quotations of particular interest, mostly from the last chapter of Beyond Modern Sculpture (Chapter 8: Robot and Cyborg Art).

“Traditional sculpture” is not responsive — it’s a one-way relationship.
Addresses the dichotomy in modern sculpture between “geometric” art and “organic” art — art that approaches some kind of organic ideal a fuses “geometric” elements of the machine with real life behaviors of living things.
Addresses the “reappearance” of kinetic art in the 60’s and 70’s: “It follows that the reappearance of Kinetic Art can be viewed as a precocious attempt to take a few sizable steps toward the goal of organic integration, albeit by the same process of classical mechanics used by the makers of eighteenth-century automata” (314).

Cybernetics is primarily about organization, info processing, and the devising of control mechanisms.
Burnham cites Norbert Weiner’s work, which “suggests how purpose could be built into machines”
He comes to the conclusion that “feedback” (primarily negative feedback) is the key concept for control.

Cybernetic art seeks a two-way relationship between the viewer and the work.

Here he introduces the idea of “input and output”. Input and output are the communication within a system. This was written before the availablility of cheap computers and cheap microprocessors, however. So the idea of input and output takes on a whole new set of challenges. See Jim Campbell’s sobering warning!

Burnham opens a discussion about the difference between machines and cultural conceptions of the “robot”. Rooted in science fiction, the robot is viewed as being primarily humanoid. Their place in western culture is primarily as a “mechanical aid to man” (320) and is often viewed as a symbolic threat to humans.

“For our generation, much significant anthropomorphic sculpture does not imitate man, but imitates robots trying to become human” (325).

Goes on to introduce artificial intelligence and self-organizing systems….

Burnham introduces an idea of “systems oriented art” or “systems art” to replace the traditional notion of sculpture.

Detailed predictions of system oriented art future problems with traditional art institutions: Maintenance costs, functionality over time, technical sophistication, etc.

“…the cultural obsession with the art object is slowly disappearing and being replaced by what might be called ‘systems consciousness'” (369).

“The concept ‘system’ itself is a pure abstraction, an assembly of isolable properties studied in terms of their transformations, either alone (closed) or in relation to other systems (open). (318)

Stability and Instability are common properties of all systems. The more complicated the system the less “stable” it is.

Relates to future Burnham article, that further details “systems art” or “systems theory”.