Reclusive and Colourful

Part 1: Colour.

Having complained about the lack of colour sense in most synthetic video I’m doing the required reading. Colour is a rabbit hole, deep and treacherous. I know Johannes Itten, grew up with his Art of Colour in my parents house like the family bible.

He has blue, yellow and red sitting there looking as if they mean business. I don’t know how Itten could run this fallacy so long when yellow’ and ‘blue’ don’t actually make ‘green’. Not using pigments and not in any printing process I’ve used, where yellow, cyan and black are required (and a spot colour more likely). I haven’t yet found where the idea started. I’m halfway through Gage’s Colour And Meaning and he’s not yet decided. He has however dug into an issue that concerns me by blaming Newton solidly for wrapping the rainbow into a circle simply because it recapitulated the octave. And there it is in Itten’s colour wheel, neatly broken into 12 ‘notes’. Newton is looking the cause of centuries of bullshit by that one conceit.

Gage is thankfully free of most philosophical musings although he does jump back and forwards in time to make a point. He turns out to be have been a visitor at my work, but died this year. (Worse still, there was a showing of Ralph Balson’s paintings at my work in the first year I was there and because I am a dumbfuck musician I didn’t know who it was about).

Working at an art college is damn fine for big glossy books about colour theory. But the best book so far turns out to be a very simple and practical one by Hilary Page. She takes you from diagrams of the retinal cells to mixing watercolours in an economy of pages and touches on everything you need to know about the psychology of colour and how to tweak it. This is the text I would force any video artist to read before they start wobbling their rectangles.

Actually it makes me think about interfaces that can get away from Red, Green and Blue faders. Something like Kuler should be the front panel.

Part 2: Reclusive.

A … funny? sobering event – distant family in the USA needed to contact us urgently. Apparently that was difficult and annoying because I’m visible but not easily contactable. By current norms I’m not ‘social’ enough. A recluse.

Vimeo and YouTube and GMail and Windows Live and Linked In (which ended up being the venue) 7 email addresses and a whole host of specialist sites isn’t enough. Being ‘social’ is as programmatic as the days of presenting your visiting card in the drawing room. In lieu of FaceBook I have invites showing up at Linked In that are obviously not about locating next year’s employment damnit.

Look, you spend 20 years with some kind of net address (OK so some of that was fidonet but it still counts) and then you’re not social enough. Screw it. DO I HAVE TO BE ON FACEBOOK?? ADVICE? (If you are one of my creepy stalkers don’t answer that thanks).

Andy Warhol’s Mother

This evening the first level of [H.H] is running! Only the bare bones – the main furniture and architecture, with none of the sound toys installed. But you can walk around and explore and the big Universal Time Machine is spinning and announcing the minutes and … other things. Feeling like I might be making the deadline!

I’ve been thinking a great deal about creativity and curation over the last weeks. I’ve always excused my curmudgeonly ways because despite all my vocal distaste for everything – I still create, still add to the cultural storehouse. Only those times when I can’t create does it seem unhealthy.

My acidic views get applied to myself first and usually get the desired effect – more effort. I’ve more often murdered my own trash than let it defame me. Only if there’s no remedy in critique do I back off. This is natural to me but seems others work better on praise and sugarplums.

That creative bargain doesn’t work if you’re curating other people’s efforts. You have to like something or there’s no show. You have to justify the positive to get it included, talk it up, smooth the concerns even if you have them. You can’t just fake it, you really have to warm to things.

If I am ever going to curate, then I have to analyse the negative.

A fundamental problem I have with most art is that it works backwards. It should work like this:

  • Internal necessity demands expression (Kandinsky).
  • Exploring the means of expression over time brings a solution.
  • The artwork is birthed in a passion of creation. It takes struggle.
  • An audience is taken by surprise by this personal act and slowly comes to respect the work even if it doesn’t suit their tastes.

But usually works like this:

  • A deadline is set for exhibition or assessment by some money keeper.
  • The artist or curator, who has political ambitions, finds out the current tastes of the audience.
  • They concoct something that suits the meanest expectations of the event.
  • Everybody gets paid and the audience feels slightly amused for a short time before wandering off to the next thing.

Just about everything I pick on comes from this principle: mindless projection mapping, 8 bit graphics on iPads, Krautrock reunion tours, skateboard ballet and so on. Take for example projection mapping, which starts from having a landmark building to project onto and works backwards to any plausible idea that can be excused for doing so. To find something praise worthy – Amon Tobin’s current light show to the extent that it is supposed be a cubist aeroplane that’s he’s flying – which is a fun idea – but not when the space is just being filled with coloured blocks.

There’s always something recent than you can do, which leads to people that do it in the vague hope of finding a point to it. That was New Media. It died.

Around 2006 I was asked to participate in an exhibition of mobile art – phones and GPS and that sort of thing. I thought about it for a week before I said no, because honestly I had nothing worth saying about mobile phones. The organiser was amazed – that had never stopped anyone before.

Another principle which I find important is that the artwork be bigger than the signature. Take for example a great video that an honours student identified the other day:

It’s a visualisation of human DNA replication that has been done with a great deal of accuracy and artistry by Drew Berry – which has been commissioned by Bjork with the condition that her face be inserted into it around the 4 minute mark. “Oh look this is beautiful! But it will be even more beautiful with MY FACE whacked in there!” Actually, no. There was something that was unique, and then become the equivalent of a Thomas Kincade painting of Jesus in seconds flat. It didn’t need to be made so obviously a vanity project.

Artists will find a trademark and then be terrified to move away from it in case the audience turns on them. In fact finding a trademark – whether a slow motion skateboard or a monochrome Joshua Tree – and being branded for life like a prize steer is the ambition of ‘artists’. Again this is a reverse of the way it should be, where popularity directs the artist like a puppet show. and climbing into the cage is their heart’s desire.

These and other concerns are all to do with the politics of art, and that the art that we get to see most is that which has played the politics. Go to an exhibition and you’ll see the work of the self promoters, the glib tongues and crowd pleasers. The people you really want are invisible. What to do?

Don’t fund art, so that only the passionate will be involved. But that leaves the wealthy, and punishes the poor. It shouldn’t have anything to do with money, plus or minus. Try again.

Only exhibit when there is something to show. That’s better, although a multitude of arts administrators are not going to put up with that. They get a wage from putting things on, as much as possible. Also, there is a public benefit to exhibiting, in that it may bring some joy. So they need to be told.

Get rid of arts administrators. It has a certain charm, but why not get rid of art academics as well? If I am going to get rid of something, then lead by example. (Actually there’s a possibility that I’ll be unemployed soon, so check this space).

Refuse to be involved in the art scene. Um, yeah, that just leaves the toadies. That’s pretty close to doing nothing at all. If you care, then better to be heard than be silent.

These are all bold and not very precise. We can do better.

Make an exhibition which reveals and publicly opposes these problems. Now you’re politicking! First of all, don’t let people know they are in the exhibition. Swoop in and take them by surprise the night before opening. If they think they’re in, they’re out.

Make sure that every second exhibit is actually bought from a service station and pay people to write lavish essays about them in the catalogue. Or actually hold the exhibition in a service station.

If you’re dealing with a known artist refuse their trademark and force them to do something else, for example, the tuba. Make them anonymous. Have every work in the exhibition signed by Ethel Schwug. Or swap tags.

Force everyone to make something called “Piss Christ”. Make everyone work on one single object called “Piss Christ”.

I’m feeling more confident about this curation business already.


COFA Annual is up.

Sorry for r e a l l y slow responses – particularly people who ordered CDs and are still waiting for delivery.
I sometimes apologise that “the day job currently requires all my time”. This is an example of the day job in overload mode.

The COFA Annual exhibition is up, this year around 350 exhibits filling up Carriageworks for a week. We survived the two opening nights and for me it was a lot of stringing cables, swearing at computers, getting projectors to power up etc. The usual panic & digital slavery.

In the past I just put together the media for Showcase night, but this year stupidly suggested setting up four user controlled viewing kiosks running off Blu Ray. That means that the kids can dial up their own film when they come visit. With nearly sixty short films filling nearly four hours submitted we’ve really hit a high – but that means authoring four Blu Rays where every little setting has to be checked over sixty times or the discs play wrong. Each fix/rebuild takes about 2 hours, and as of about 4pm yesterday I was screaming death at the burner, running out of time to get the kiosks up for doors open…

They were up for doors open.

Of course there was yet one more tiny error on disc 4 which means I’m back authoring it again around 11pm. A mystery stop after two hours (finally found a stop command attached to a chapter, overriding the end action of the time line. Arse.)

Funny addendum to the post about ‘end of the world’ films: at one point all four screens had one playing. It really is striking how many variations on doom scape we had this year – rapture, virus, atomic war, time collapse and of course zombies. Another thing we’re noticing – music boxes.

Once these are under control it’s time to get the Showcase built and THERE CAN BE NO ERRORS. Been no errors since I started doing this, and it’s not going to start in 2010. The showcase is ticket only but the films are showing all week and entry is free. As soon as the artists start posting their films to YouTube I’ll link them.

Gravity from Brian Zou on Vimeo.

VFX Showreel 2010 from Daniel Ward on Vimeo.

The Nine Billion Names of Blog

300px-50_meter_rifle_targetsvgThis blog is back on target. SMJ took that superglue and pumped it (laughing in a manly way) into that open source, sealing the jimjams that were doodling the ohplats or something. The useless categories are back in place, my tedious attempts at amusing tags are clouding in the etherblogcloudingscape and I can get back to avoiding part two of the synthesiser class. It’s good to be back, polluting your cyberspace.

Not that I haven’t been busy, dear no. Week two of Kunst Kamp and we have the kunstlers blogging away for dear life. Their word count threatens to smother the universe in blogmass and good riddance to all that open space, I say. When the newspapers all fold we will be ready! I feel like the guy that tied a bunch of balloons to his lawn chair. We are going up, all of us, with no plans of how to come down. Think of it – right now 150 students are typing! Soon it will be 250! Then we will link to main campus blogs and have thousands… the blogs will become sentient and launch an attack on civilisation as we know it.

Take for example categories. Now if you allow students to choose their own, how many categories will they create? As many as there are fish in the sea. Even when I said please use the course code, you can type that in an endless variety of ways – there’s soma1603 or SOMA1603 or SOMA 1603 with a gap … each is a new category. Once we connect with main campus there will be 9 Billion categories, one of which will be the name of God… and the stars will go out one by one.

On the home front I finally got around to sending up two of the Severed Heads clips as High Definition at YouTube. The HD mode is not too shabby. Certainly better than the old playback. I guess I’ll repost all of the old videos again, although most of them are standard old 4:3 format. It makes me think some day I had better get back to making some art, if there’s ever time to make art, or any audience left that wants it.

Also, for the special two people & dog that read this thing – I can preview the incomplete version of OP4 which eventually shall reside at:

This has more holes in it than a spaghetti spoon, but over the coming weeks I’ll be fixing it as I can. Yes, the tracks are either remastered or remixed from the old multitracks. Why? Because that’s what OP was always about – keep on reworking and rerecording the tracks over and over again. Why? Because it is amusing for me to keep folding the sources in different directions – frankly I’d do that if no one was listening at all, but if somebody wants to, you are welcome.

Also busy is SMJ. You have seen these haven’t you? A very interesting development is brewing … but you will have to wait to find out …

Be careful what you wish for

Today I started furnishing six new bulletin board systems for KUNST KAMP, based on Omnium, the KAMP’s didactic BBS. (Furnishing because the nice folk at Omnium did the real lifting). While not perfect, Omnium includes many of the facilities that were ardently desired by the people on the old sevcom Twister system. While it is a BBS with threads and forums, everybody has their own portfolio ‘pin up wall’ where they can show off their art, they can move that art into communal gallery spaces, set up versions that multiple people co-author and so on. The system allows team enclaves, such that small work groups can shut themselves off from the world, KDX style, while leaving the main areas open to the public. So here it is, the system that was needed for the ‘next move forward’. And designed by people who had no overlap with our little experiment, which just goes to show that the technical problems we saw back then were universally recognised.

The cavalry arrives only to find the settlers all dead. Too late.

Not as in too late to save that experiment. Too late as in the experiment went way beyond the goal of the perfect container and became a psychology experiment. Trap some children on an island and you get Lord Of The Flies. No amount of technology was going to save that monster, because it had decided to be a monster and it didn’t want saving.

This leaves mixed feelings. On the surface, I get to continue the experiment with a new system, a new audience. Hundreds of students spread over six BBS systems, a WordPress mu system (thanks CSU!) and a new video storage system that (may it please Data God) will switch on around March 4th (thanks UNSWTV!). And because they are students there is clear reason for having it and clear authority for moderators. If you were reading the history of this you might think, hey Twister became OSMA, nice crossfade. In reality I have extremely ambivalent feelings about the entire notion of online communities.


No, not Ozma, OSMA

Stewart L said it the other night, over a beer. Whenever he sees ‘community’ on a web site he just thinks ‘uh oh’. We agreed that there was something terribly empty in the promise of ‘online community’ but couldn’t finger just what is needed. When explaining the advantages to my workmates I can find many positives. But that doesn’t reassure my doubts.

Right now is all the panic of trying to organise and document a moving structure – three disparate systems that must work together as one tool. Then come the pleading and coercion to get students to start typing. If and when the momentum comes, the probing of … what? How big an island you need for Hunt The Pig? Hell they do that on Facebook.

Actually this a long winded way of saying that this blog might slow down for the weeks where I am trying to forge this behemouth.

And also I am distracted learning the most beautiful programming language in the world. I hate program languages like ActionScript because they are inhumane. They try to make me into a machine. Machines should be machines. But look at this example from the manual. This is the actual code:

“The Hypnotist of Blois”

A person is either hypnotized or alert. A person is usually alert.

Persuasion rule for asking a hypnotized person to try doing something:
persuasion succeeds.

Understand “hypnotize [someone]” as hypnotizing.

Hypnotizing is an action applying to one thing.

Check hypnotizing:
if the noun is hypnotized, say “Already done.” instead.

Carry out hypnotizing:
now the noun is hypnotized.

Report hypnotizing:
say “[The noun] slips under your control.”

Instead of waking someone hypnotized:
now the noun is alert;
say “[The noun] returns abruptly to consciousness.”

Check someone hypnotizing someone:
stop the action.

Maison de la Magie is a room. “In a darkened room, a few hundreds of paces from the chateau of Blois, you give to tourists three shows a day: displaying to them power they do not comprehend and spectacles they do not deserve.”

A volunteer is a woman in the Maison. “A volunteer from the audience stands facing you, [if alert]skeptically awaiting hypnosis[otherwise]her face worshipful and obedient[end if].” The printed name of the volunteer is “volunteer from the audience”. The description is “A distracted, susceptible woman.” The volunteer wears a t-shirt and a baseball hat.

The player wears a top hat and a cape.

The language is Inform 7. I am in love.

So then, what was the experiment?

I have been surprised by the interest from academia in our ‘Twister’ communities. Twister 5 (which has very recently quit this mortal coil) had a smattering of researchers lurking in the background, probably hoping for some insights into creativity and Web2.0. Before that we had a few receiving the mails from Twister 3 and even a few brave souls prepared to risk their dollar on the KDX powered version Twister 4 (on ya Julian). But really, all involved are probably curious about what we actually learned from moderating Severed Heads ‘fans’ for 15 years. I can’t really justify the time writing a considered analysis here, but a few notes are worth jotting down.

Firstly the overall dynamic of our communities was that of web communities in general. Put a large number of people together in anonymity and they behave badly. The mailing list was least affected as the participants’ email addresses were disclosed (a rarity in these spam filled days). The BBS was the worst. The symptoms are familiar – trolls, flames, and an incessant round of ‘Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of A Bitch’ – some of the usual features on any BBS.

If there was one factor that was uncommon, it was the mixed message of having a ‘fan’ discussion area where the population was discouraged from being fan-like. People joined ‘because’ of Severed Heads, but then were told to talk about anything but. This was intended to defuse the usual band/listener relationship, which it did when we had a wider spread of people, but when trouble came it seemed to draw energy from that uneasy set up. Put very simplistically:

A: Hello, I offer you a free place in my house. Never mind my photo on every wall, I’ve drawn moustaches on them!
B: What’s the catch? There’s always a catch.
A: There’s no catch, and you don’t have to tell me what I nice person I am.
B: Well, what if I piss on your floor?
A: Hey!

Neither A nor B gets out of the relationship looking too innocent. It would just be better to admit that it’s going to be uneven, but make sure everybody gets something out of it.

If you’re an artist that’s thinking about starting a discussion group, forget it. It won’t work. The resentment will overcome any attempt at self effacement. Let somebody else do it on your behalf if they want, and then give them lots of support.

Fan is of course short for Fanatic. There’s a lot of energy in that role and not all of it good. Think of Stephen King’s Misery.

Next point is why the membership slowly declined over those years. Numerically it waxed and waned – at all times we were plagued with dead members. On Twister 3 we once purged all accounts to clean out those addresses that bounced – 270 were phantoms. Twister 5 had a parade of people that joined and never came back. I simply have no idea why they would bother.

What I mean by ‘decline’ is more subtle. The question is bundled in the answer – we lost high achieving, creative members as they had no more time to participate, we lost people who had children, we lost people that became empowered and disdained community. In fact the Twister membership is a very interesting snapshot of the Internet: up front all the early adopters and enthusiasts roughly in their 20’s, who slowly leave the space, which becomes filled with the very young and the middle aged. And the young go to Facebook.

A similar process is going on with music. Concealed in the argument about free distribution is a decline in enthusiasm – music that was once listened to intensely is now just part of a lifestyle. Why would anyone be on a band discussion list?

Leaving out a whole line of thinking here – jump to the chase – I am not surprised to see in Time Magazine this week a discussion of ‘authenticity’ as an upcoming social issue – except I am more concerned with the flip side – what I am calling the ‘virtual ghetto’ – it won’t be much longer before poverty is associated with online services – the wealthy will have paper, the poor will have PDFs – this will take its toll on all online.

If there was ever going to be a Twister 6 it would be made of bricks.