Water Rites at BlindSpot

In February I participated in the Blindspot Initiative and exhibition at Keystone Arts space in Northeast Los Angeles. This initiative was meant to explore the blurring boundaries between design, architecture and storytelling about the built and natural environment and also culminated in a series of workshops and a publication.

For Blindspot, I exhibited Water Rites with the addition of a new piece, Shrine, which adds depth to the world of Water Rites by proposing a series of shrine-like objects inspired by Greek roadside Kandylakia.

I also experimented with a new way of installing these piece. Rather then showing them as art objects I experimented with a fictitious museum display. By painting the walls and creating didactic wall text with a fake audio tour,  I presented the objects as though they were in an archeological museum.

Information about the Blindspot Initiative and related events can be found here.


Rapid Prototyping

Since I started working at Art Center, I’ve become more interested in incorporating Rapid Prototyping techniques into my practice. By RP, I mean methods of fabricating 3D elements from computer models or 2D diagrams (done in Illustrator, Sketchup, SolidWorks, etc.). I audited a 3D modeling studio last Fall, for example. While in that class, I was exposed to a few new techniques. I am already familiar with laser-cutting and CNC Milling techniques, and employ them frequently in my work. So I was more interested in learning about Plaster and FDM printing.

SPECULATIVE: Curatorial Statement

Written by Zach Blas and Chris O’Leary:

Today, we see the world we live in as an inviable world, and yet a world poised for radical reconfiguration.

From global economic crises to pandemic panics to burgeoning forms of hatred and control to the ravaging of our earth, new borders and quarantines haunt and terrorize the world at stochastic levels of the global, nation-state, informatics, and the biological. Indeed, our world presents to us the seemingly complete commodification of life, culture, the body, the planet.

Yet, we find within these very inviabilities the kernels of potential to enact and push forward new ways, worlds, and lives.

In fact, we see many up-risings emerging everywhere: from the calls to action of militant groups like The Invisible Committee to the UC student protests to the insurrections of the Middle East to the digital activisims of WikiLeaks and Anonymous.

These all point toward living and existing in the world another way.

We see the SPECULATIVE as the uniting force in our artwork that conjures forth the potential of the world we want, in political, cultural, social, sexual, technological, biological, economic, and ecological dimensions.

The SPECULATIVE is that imaginative, aesthetic work done by the artist to create new possibilities, inspire change, gesture toward a livable future, and generate new tactics and methodologies.

The SPECULATIVE  asks us to use our imagination politically.

The SPECULATIVE allows us to subvert reality; practice new types of activism; work with the impossible as a political framework; rediscover the magic of our materials; question what a body and collective is capable of; locate new sexualities and perversities; reconfigure capitalism, design, and branding; create new worlds, peoples, species, and ecologies; find embodiments and other productive actions that emerge from war, apocalypses, disasters, and death; and build our dream utopias.

Measuring Water Flow

Came across this project while researching different approaching to monitoring water. I like the clean, sleek method they employ — right out of the sink, over the air, and into a visualization. Also I like the open-source aspect of it — that they listed their materials and detailed their process. I’m intrigued by the flow sensor they reference. Buying one now, to play with.

Critical Potential

Today, I gave a talk to some art students in a class at Pomona College (Claremont, CA).

I like giving talks about my work because it forces me to spend some extra time thinking about how to best contextualize it for a new audience. Here’s a little bit of a review of how I introduced my work today:

I began by discussing the strategies in science fiction, particularly in a more recognizable situation like the ‘space opera’ of the Roddenberry University (Star Trek). In these types of shows, we often see the civilization of the future, cruising the galaxy and encountering cultures or civilizations that remind us of 20th or 21st century earth, and some common problem from that century (race, gender discrimination, pollution, etc..). From the enlightened perspective of the future, the crew of the Enterprise would alway help them take steps towards overcoming these issues. This is a common strategy in Science Fiction — Use of an enlightened, future vantage point in order to critique or suggest solutions for contemporary debacles.

I then move on to introduce the idea of “atemporality”, vis-a-vis Bruce Sterling.

Here’s a description from an earlier blog post. But to more quickly introduce the idea of atemporality, I referenced this H.G. Wells book from 1933, “The Shape of Things To Come”, in which Wells describes a history textbook published in the year 2106, and the various events therein that shaped humanity. A similar critical strategy, but plays with time-scales a little bit more.

I wanted to show another example of good socially bent sci-fi that wasn’t a “space opera” like Star Trek or Star Wars, so I referenced the 2006 film “Children Of Men” (Alfonso Cuaron) to discuss the idea of a “near future” or alternate present, even, as a critical strategy. What really interests me about the world design in C.O.M. is the fact that the future is only slightly advanced (different car and computer designs) but instead of the usual slick veneer we’re used to seeing in scifi, the technology is all slightly dilapidated and antiqued. I’m interested in the antiquing of non-existent technologies. It’s a clever way of introducing the context of the film, which is a not-too-distant future with some advancement — but one that is ultimately still flawed.

At this point, I introduced Critical Design as emerging from some of these strategies, but not referencing them directly. The of Dunne & Raby and students/colleagues of there’s at RCA (Noam Toran, James Auger, Jimmy Loizeau, etc.) represent a conflation of industrial design, critical theory and even a touch of anthropology. Without claiming to know a great amount about anthropology, It still seems to me that a critical, investigatory, research oriented practice (like the work of these designer) mimics, in many ways, the strategies of anthropology. The discourse is centered around objects and their documentation, however, and not publica

tions. This was a good moment to pull up my usual favorite quote from Dunne’s book “Hertzian Tales” about the critical potential of seeing a work, seeing a case study, and imagining yourself using it (or even further, the potential future/alt-present context in which one might use it). I also introduced them to the work of Maywa Denki and mentioned the tradition of Japanese “Device Art”.

Referencing Jack Kevorkian’s suicide machines, after all this, offers an alternative way of thinking about critical design, that is outside of the art and design community…

Finally, to review it all, I showed a slide from Scott McCloud’s book “Understanding Comics”. There is a chapter called Blood In the Gutter, in which McCloud explains how in sequential media (comics, in this example), audiences can complete a whole idea by perceiving various, fragmented parts. The imagination is the glue that makes the necessary connections. This is called closure, and it is the grammar in sequential media, with the visual eleme

nts being the vocabulary. To illustrate this idea, McCloud talks about the white space in between panels of comics: it is called the “gutter”. In a subject-to-subject transition like the one below, the actual axe-fall takes place in the gutter. It’s really up to your imagination to determine how horrible the death is. McCloud writes,

To kill a man between panels it to condemn him to a thousand deaths.

Meaning that there is an important distinction to make between how much to show vs. not show, as an artist, and an necessary awareness of how much the audience will “read in” on their own.

It was fun to recap everything we had just looked at, with the concepts of closure and the gutter in mind. It reinforces the idea introduced by Anthony Dunne, that the conceptual power of speculative art and design is in the balance between seeing the work physically and imagining using it. I would refer to this as the work’s “critical potential”.

It was a this point, I went into showing my own projects, having contextualized them in some of these ideas/strategies.
I found the talks today invigorating, and inspiring. The students had some good questions about the nature of documentation and different distribution strategies for work like this. We ended up having a pretty good dialogue about the growing need to investigate the appropriate context for showing your work, and how the context in which it’s seen can radically change its meaning.

I’ll be back in the studio soon, working on some new pieces, so stay tuned. It’s been a long gestation period but I have a few ideas on the backburner. And the third piece in the Measure of Discontent series is underway for a March deadline at Rhizome.



Psychohistory is a fictional science in the Asimov “Foundations” trilogy/universe.

Psychohistorians use certain algorithms and equations to accurately predict the actions of a large collective group of people / society.

A machine called the The Prime Radiant stores and processes the phychohistorical equations. The Psychohistorians use the information to shape the direction of social change.

On September 25, 1987, Asimov gave an interview to Terry Gross on her National Public Radio program, Fresh Air. In it, Gross asked him about psychohistory:

Gross: “What did you have in mind when you coined the term and the concept?”

Asimov: “[My editor] wanted an open-ended series so it lasts forever, perhaps. And so I started doing that. In order to keep the story going from story to story, I was essentially writing future history, and I had to make it sufficiently different from modern history to give it that science fictional touch. And so I assumed that the time would come when there would be a science in which things could be predicted on a probabilistic or statistical basis.”

Gross: “Do you think that would be good if there really was such a science?”

Asimov: “Well, I can’t help but think it would be good, except that in my stories, I always have opposing views. In other words, people argue all possible… all possible… ways of looking at psychohistory and deciding whether it is good or bad. So you can’t really tell. I happen to feel sort of on the optimistic side. I think if we can somehow get across some of the problems that face us now, humanity has a glorious future, and that if we could use the tenets of psychohistory to guide ourselves we might avoid a great many troubles. But on the other hand, it might create troubles. It’s impossible to tell in advance.”

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory_(fictional)

Transborder Immigrant Tool / b.a.n.g. lab

If you’re not familiar with the goings on at b.a.n.g. lab at UCSD, then you should definitely read up on it and become privy to their current situation/crisis. I thought it would be prudent to blog about this now, in light of the outrageous new immigration law in Arizona, and all the conversation and attention around the topic.

Part of the story, and links to other stories here: http://bang.calit2.net/xborderblog/?p=173
b.a.n.g. lab website: http://bang.calit2.net/
Transborder Immigrant Tool main blog:  http://bang.calit2.net/xborderblog/

b.a.n.g. lab (bits, atoms, neurons, genes) and EDT (Electronic Disturbance Theater) are a really innovative group of digital media artist and activists working in the realm of digital civil disobedience, “disturbance” and intervention, border politics and transience. They are an affiliate of UCSD’s department of art, where director Ricardo Dominguez is a professor.

On the project:

The technologies of Spatial Data Systems and GPS (Global Positioning System) have enabled an entirely new relationship with the landscape that takes form in applications for simulation, surveillance, resource allocation, management of cooperative networks and pre-movement pattern modeling (such as the Virtual Hiker Algorithm) an algorithm that maps out a potential or suggested trail for real a hiker/or hikers to follow. The Transborder Immigrant Tool would add a new layer of agency to this emerging virtual geography that would allow segments of global society that are usually outside of this emerging grid of hyper-geo-mapping-power to gain quick and simple access with to GPS system. The Transborder Immigrant Tool would not only offer access to this emerging total map economy – but, would add an intelligent agent algorithm that would parse out the best routes and trails on that day and hour for immigrants to cross this vertiginous landscape as safely as possible.

In short, it’s a tool that enables people who are committed to crossing the US/Mexico border, a means by which to do so safely, and avoid needlessly dying or being killed. It reminds me a lot of the discourse around controversial programs like the Needle Exchange.

I won’t go into too much detail, since the story’s been chronicled better by the artists themselves on their blog, etc. Basically UCSD is “investigating” Ricardo Dominguez and the group, doing things like threatening to revoke his tenure, plus the group is receiving numerous threats of violence. I just want to bring some attention to the project because I feel like it’s a really great example of critical design in action. These sorts of artistic action and disturbances are prudent and necessary, and in keeping with the rich tradition of calls for change associated with civil disobedience. Not to mention, it’s really refreshing to see impassioned work that comes from research and actually has a tangible effect on the environment. Check it out.

Also here’s an interview with Ricardo Dominguez in Vice: http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n11/htdocs/follow-the-gps-225.php

“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.