Saturday, September 23, 2006 

come out and play!

This seems to be the time of year for new media-related festivals, as another big one kicked off last night. However, before we got to that point, we met with some folks at the hosting site, Eyebeam, who are doing very cool things. The Graffiti Research Lab is comprised of a group of programmers and innovators who are exploring new forms of urban graffiti. One of their latest projects involves LED lights attached to magnets that they call "throwies" because they can be, well, throwed at things, creating a semi-permanent, chaotic form of graffiti involving much of the general public. They are also experimenting with a very cool machine: a 3-D printer that has so far been used mostly to print models of the head of one of the artists [at left]. Overall, very technologically and conceptually innovative, and I plan on following their work to see what else they come up with. Also during our visit, we met with the director of Eyebeam and took a tour of the rest of the facilities, including their education department, which puts on programs for school-age kids to get them excited about new forms of art.

After a trip over to the Postmasters Gallery to see Natalie Jaremijenko's new exhibit, we headed back over to Eyebeam for the opening of the Come Out and Play festival. It features about thirty big urban games played in various locations in Manhattan, and is much bigger than last weekend's Conflux festival. Even as hundreds of people ran off to play games, the venue remained buzzing with activity. Notable was the performance of Modal Kombat, a couple of guys who were playing Mortal Kombat [and later Mario Kart, at right] with their guitars as the controllers. Various pitches, sequences, and volumes played on the guitars corresponded to actions on a traditional controller. The crowd had a great time watching them play, and it actually ended up sounding surpisingly good. Another twist on an old video game was the larger than life Space Invaders, played on the side of a building and controlled by the player moving his arms and torso.

Another highlight of the past couple days was not one, but two encounters with Mexican Mariachi bands. Seriously, how cool is that? The first one was the biggest Mariachi band I've ever seen, comprised of about seven men playing in a pretty good restaurant called Mama Mexico. They even had a trumpet! Very authentic, and it reminded me a lot of Old Town Mexican Cafe back home. And the second was a not so great group of three men who popped onto our subway car and played a song. However, it was the first time I have ever seen people give money to those folks on the subway who demand your attention, and they didn't even have to do the "Can I have your attention? I just need a meal" schpeel, so I was pretty impressed.

Thursday, September 21, 2006 

various film stuff

It's been a few days, so I think an update is in order. Things have been kind of low-key lately... I've been working a lot on my big project, which should be presentable, at least in its first form, very soon. We did have a pretty big day yesterday, when we had the chance to meet with a couple groups of folks that are doing very cool stuff with film.

First, we trekked out to Anthology Film Archives for a special screening and tour. It's always very cool to meet Carleton grads who are out and about in the world working at jobs they absolutely love. Here, we met John Miripiri, who told us about the work being done at the archives. They have the largest collection of avant-garde cinema, and they are supported by some of the biggest names in the field (like Jonas Mekas, who unfortunately didn't make it out to meet with us). That said, it was surprising what a low budget place it was. They have a couple very run-down theaters, in comparison to most of the places showing feature films these days, and their offices, storeroom, and library are too small for the work they're doing. It's just really unfortunate that they don't have a larger budget to improve their facilities and bring in more staff to work on preserving these films that are otherwise not being preserved and will be lost eventually without intervention.

Then we headed over to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts to check out their animation department. We met with John Canemaker, a professor there who has had quite the career in animation. My jaw dropped when he mentioned in passing the Oscar he won. The program there has spouted out some animators who are in the center of what's going on at Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, etc. It looks like a pretty awesome undergrad program, although it's not really my kind of thing. I'll stick to my midwest liberal arts education.

Which brings me to one more thing I've been realizing the past week or two: I'm not really a city girl. Yes, I grew up in a decent sized city, but in the more suburban area of it. New York is pretty awesome, and it's been really fun trekking around and being overwhelmed by how many big, cutting-edge places are packed into this city, but it's just a bit too much for me. The other day, I ended up walking over 100 blocks from where I'm staying down into Chelsea, and halfway through, I felt like I just needed to get away from all of the people and noise and shops and trash (they pile trash bags on the sidewalks here! where are the dumpsters?) and go take a walk in the arb or something. Yes, there's Central Park here, but it's not the same. At all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 

make do and mend

So, on Saturday, I had a chance to sit down and talk for a bit with Hilary Jack while she was hanging out at the Conflux HQ presenting her latest work: "Make do and Mend" (also known as the umbrella project). Hilary and her friend and fellow artist Paul Harfleet came out from Manchester (yes, in the UK) to spend the week in New York for Conflux.

Hilary's project involves taking found items off the streets, repairing them, and then replacing them where she found them. It was initially done somewhat out of convenience: she found an umbrella on a subway on a rainy day, repaired it and used it, and then left it where she found it in case another subway user was unfortunate enough to be stuck without an umbrella.

For this execution of the project, Hilary picked up some items she found around the Conflux HQ a few days before her presentation. She ended up with quite a few umbrellas (it was a rainy week in NY), a couple pairs of pants she found in a gutter, a ring that had been run over by a few cars, and a gutted baseball. She repaired as many umbrellas as she could (although a few were too shot to be salvaged), took the pants to be dry cleaned, and took the ring to a jeweler. She couldn't find anybody who knew how to repair the baseball, but she's hoping to get that done eventually. After her exhibit at Conflux, I went with her to replace the items right where she found them.

She's not really sure what happens to these things after she puts them back, but she says that the process is what she cares about. She takes all these items that were almost built to break (how durable can you expect $2 umbrellas to be?) and repairs them, often at more cost than getting a new one. When she leaves them in the street, there's a good chance they will eventually be discarded anyway, but she will have done something, realistically quite futile, to augment the cycle of using and discarding cheap items in a consumer world.

I snapped some great photos, but the internet here is ridiculously slow tonight, so they will have to wait. More to come in the online magazine highlighting Hilary and other artists at Conflux.


conflux... and other weekend activities

As you may have noticed, I've kind of gone missing from this blog in the past few days. I've had a busy weekend running around meeting with artists, visiting with a friend from school, and starting to work on some art of my own. Highlights are as follows:

Conflux ran from Thursday through Sunday, and each day featured artists showcasing their works at the main gallery, giving talks at local bars, and leading excursions out into the neighborhood and larger city. The projects all had something to do with psychogeography: the artists' way of interacting with the spaces around them.

As far as general impressions of the Conflux festival go, it was interesting. It was a bit of an adventure: at times, it all felt very disorganized and honestly a bit boring, but there were also some fascinating projects on display and being carried out during the duration of the festival.

My main complaint, and maybe this is just because I'm not very familiar with the field yet, but many of the projects just didn't really feel like art. Most of them were interesting, but just not terribly artistic. As an example, take the lecture I attended that discussed a commute done in a kayak that included a trek through a ditch. Interesting? Could be. Art? I'm skeptical. Another project of this type is "Freestyle SoundKit" by Jessica Thomson (photo below). She designed a set of devices that picked up impacts on pressure sensors and produced an audio beat on each impact.

I also had the chance to conduct a more formal interview with an artist to include in the Roadtrip Conflux magazine (more to follow on that!), and I'll go into more detail on that one later.

As far as the rest of the weekend goes, it was pretty awesome. Pinsh came out from Carleton to visit her friend Kris, so Joe and I met up with them for dinner and an excursion into Brooklyn. At dinner, the boys ended up ordering almost matching pasta:

Other highlights included getting a Berry Lime Sublime smoothie at Jamba Juice and finally going to see Little Miss Sunshine, which was very good.

Today I also dug in on my big project of the trip, which is going to be AWESOME. Seriously. Stay tuned for more on that, hopefully within the next week or so. It is going to rock your socks.